Figures of Attendance, Part I–the Mets, Rays and Marlins

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In today’s NY Times, amid the accolades doled out on R.A. Dickey for another superlative performance, the attendance situation surrounding the Mets is discussed. GM Sandy Alderson all but said he’s keeping veteran outfielder Scott Hairston in spite of his attractiveness on the trade market as a power righty bat off the bench and as an occasional starter because wins help credibility and he might help the team win a few extra games.

It’s very easy to criticize the decision and say that once a team is guaranteed of missing the playoffs that there’s no difference between winning 76 games, 66 games of 56 games. Apart from the requisite jokes of a team being so terrible that they lose over 100 games, there’s some logic in the theory. Specifically, in his book The Extra 2% about the Rays, Jonah Keri said that the Rays new ownership and management team knew they were awful and shunned the idea of wasting money and resources to bring in players that would likely have helped them win 5 or so more games, but wouldn’t have done much of anything to help them in the long term.

The Rays could do that because they were such a perennial laughingstock and no one knew what to make of the financial guys who’d taken over the team. Given the moves they did make—changing the name, appearing to be afraid of making a mistake in trades to the point that they were frozen in time—there was much to ridicule. But bolstered by the high draft picks; some truly savvy trades; clever long-term contracts and service time sleight of hand; and more than a little luck, the Rays have become the case study of building a winning team under a strict budget.

That the Rays have made the playoffs in 3 of the past 4 years and have a chance to make it again this year doesn’t alter the fact that their attendance is 13th out of 14 AL teams in 2012; was 13th last season; 9th in 2010; 11th in 2009 coming off their pennant in 2008; and were 12th in 2008. In 2007, they lost 96 games and were last with almost 1.4 million fans coming to Tropicana Field. They’ve gained around 400,000 people a season since they started winning. That’s not good.

The Marlins have a new ballpark and went on a spending spree to try and win. Non-baseball-related amenities and attractions were installed in Marlins Park with the undertone of ownership not caring why people were coming to the park; whether they were there to watch the game, go to a restaurant or nightclub, get a haircut or just look at women mattered little. Attendance hasn’t risen to the levels they desired and the 51-61 Marlins are 12th in the National League. That’s after being last from 2006-2011 and next to last in 2005; 14th in 2004 (coming off a World Series win); and next to last in 2003 when they did win the World Series.

If the Rays think a new park in St. Petersburg or wherever else in Florida they can find the space and get the approval to build one is going to help, they need only to look at the other Florida franchise to see the truth. And good luck after the way the Marlins ballpark was built with the subsequent investigations into the shady practices that were its genesis.

With mercenaries; corporate entities; team bosses who think their installation was based on merit and not on marrying someone; and questionable ethics and morals, the Marlins are getting what many think they deserve. It gets worse from here.

//

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Jose Reyes Signs with the Marlins—Full Analysis

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Jose Reyes has agreed to terms with the Miami Marlins on a 6-year, $106 million contract.

Let’s dissect it.

For the Mets present and future.

Did Reyes’s presence or absence matter much to the 2012 Mets?

The financial issues notwithstanding, do you really think that the 2012 Mets have a chance in that division?

If you read The Extra 2% about the Rays, the new front office—coming from a financial background and aware of risk/reward and bottom-line reality—made a conscious decision not to waste money on veteran players and negligible production to win a few more games.

Mired in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, playing in a hideous ballpark and with a rotten team, it didn’t make a difference whether they won 64 games, 68 games or 75 games.

They weren’t going to be anywhere close to the top of the division anyway and they weren’t competing for a Wild Card spot, so why put up a pretentious display and spending money they didn’t have for players they didn’t need?

The Mets current financial situation isn’t as dire as that of the Rays, but you can compare the two.

The Rays didn’t have money to spend on payroll to begin with; the Mets don’t have the money because of an ongoing legal drama and onerous, immovable contracts for Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

The common denominator is the same.

Why spend the money on Reyes when the earliest possible season of contention—barring a serious and unrealistic leap from their young players—is 2013?

The Phillies age/money-related downfall won’t start until 2013; the Marlins are being investigated by the SEC, are taking a wait-and-see approach to see if the new ballpark inspires the fans in Miami to come to ballgames and could tear the roster down as quickly as they’re building it up; the Nationals years of being terrible gave them the foundation of two franchise players in consecutive years with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and have other young players on the way to counteract stupidities like giving Jayson Werth $126 million; the Braves are stacked with young players of their own.

How are the Mets competing in that division in 2012?

They’re not. With or without Reyes.

They haven’t won anything with Reyes. They lost in the playoffs in 2006, collapsed in 2007 and faded in 2008. The whole thing came apart in 2009 and they’re sifting through the muck to fix what ails them now.

One player isn’t going to make a difference one way or the other to achieve their ends.

Maybe it’s time to do something different and move on.

For Mets fans and the bloodthirsty media.

The fans have all the power in the relationship. If you don’t like the product they’re putting on the field; if you’re unhappy with the management; if you don’t want to watch the team in person without one specific player, don’t go to the games.

Reyes is the girlfriend you’re not all that bothered to see leave, but don’t want to picture her with someone else.

Make a choice. Overcompensate and mortgage more of the future to keep him around or enter another phase of life.

The fans have the option of supporting the franchise with their money or not.

In a capitalistic society with a discretionary expense, it’s remarkably simple—don’t buy it.

Fans who are hoping that Reyes gets injured are bitter and spurned; to blame Reyes for taking the biggest contract he could get is projecting that anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it. The Mets didn’t make an offer that compared with that of the Marlins and Reyes left. Blame the Mets if you must and act accordingly.

Reporters who were sitting and waiting with rampant (as opposed to rational) self-interest for Reyes’s departure are gloating now, doing their touchdown dance and rationalizing the departure in terms to bolster their own agendas. They hedged their bets when it looked like there was the remote possibility of him staying, but betrayed their hands at every rumor that had him gone before it was a fact. Now they’re saying, “See?!?”

It’s akin to picking the Cardinals to win the World Series before the season started and claiming to have been “right” after the fact while ignoring that they turned over half the roster and wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all if the Braves didn’t collapse.

Put it into context; know what you’re reading.

If you’re smart, intuitive and aren’t looking for validation for yourself, you’ll see right through it and not purchase the junk that they’re selling either.

How does this affect the Marlins and their fans?

Hanley Ramirez is moving to another position. Some say it might be center field; some say third base.

He’s not going to be happy about it nor is he going to be happy if the Marlins don’t offer him a contract extension for time served to put his paycheck in line with his friend and new teammate.

An unhappy Ramirez is the fuse to a powder keg.

The Marlins have made some splashy moves and are apparently not finished. Reyes and Heath Bell are onboard; they’re still after pitching with C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle and have an offer out for Albert Pujols; but much is dependent on Josh Johnson‘s return from shoulder problems and how much they improve the pitching. If they don’t pitch, they don’t win.

The NL East isn’t a division where a few big name signings will vault the Marlins past the Nationals, Braves and Phillies.

Even if they win, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to achieve the floating projections and needs in attendance to keep the group together.

Pending the SEC investigation into the shady ballpark financing and whether there’s an interest in a new park and star-laden team, we won’t know about the Marlins and their future until the summer when there won’t be any basketball or football to distract the fans—fans whose interests tend to lean in that direction in spite of the Marlins record.

They’re not baseball fans in Florida. Will stars and a freshly built stadium with a roof and prevalent diversions alter that fact?

We won’t know until we know.

What to expect from Reyes.

The predictions (prayers) are running the gamut from Reyes going to Miami and being a megastar for the entire 6-year term; to him getting hurt immediately; to the Marlins holding him for a year or so, seeing how things go as they did in 1997 during their last spending spree, then trading him.

Bell, Ricky Nolasco, Johnson, Ramirez, Ozzie Guillen, that hideous home run monstrosity disguised as art, their World Series trophies and anything else that isn’t nailed to the ground could be on the move a year from now.

It’s impossible to foresee what’s going to happen, but there is that history of business amorality and outright falsehoods surrounding Jeffrey Loria and his club.

Reyes might get hurt.

Reyes might stay healthy.

It might be somewhere in between.

Those who constantly reference Reyes’s health from the years 2005-2008 are ignoring the consistent injury history to a single part of his body—his hamstrings—and that his legs are what makes him special. Without his speed, he could hit 10 home runs a year, be a decent fielder, pop a few doubles and triples if the mood strikes him. But he doesn’t walk and if he can’t steal bases, what good is he as anything other than a $17 million a year singles hitter?

The hamstring problems are recurrent and had little to do with the Mets supposedly subpar medical staff. It’s insane to think that he’s going to sign with the Marlins and turn into Cal Ripken. The only question is whether there’s a tweak here and there for which he misses a few games or a pull/tear that keeps him out for a season.

As a player in the prime of his career, he’s an unstoppable force when he’s healthy and motivated—while he has his legs. Reyes was healthy and motivated in the first half of this season with the Mets with visions of $100 million+ spurring him on. But when he returned from his numerous hamstring strains, he didn’t steal any bases; he was intentionally tentative; he was thinking about his contract and, playing for a non-contender, he made sure he stayed on the field…and he got hurt again.

In conjunction with his decision to remove himself from the final game of the season to save his batting title, it’s a typical and troubling attitude of me-me-me that is tolerated out of necessity and unwanted in a perfect world.

Self.

There’s going to be lots of “self” on that Marlins squad. Guillen is a calculating and perceived as a self-promoter; many times he’s doing it to take the focus off his players in a method-to-his-madness sort of way, but there will be instances where he calls out his players, coaches, media, fans, front office and makes a mess.

The players tend to go off the reservation as well with Logan Morrison‘s social network fetish; Bell’s big mouth; Reyes and Ramirez and that “you’re taking my money and my position” dynamic that could turn ugly—it’s going to take time to find cohesion and common ground.

It’s a potentially toxic brew.

Reyes always wants to play; he’s not a malingerer. But that doesn’t mean his hamstrings are going to sustain his game of speed and quickness from age 29-35.

And without that no-trade clause he could be traded anywhere at anytime and there won’t be an enraged fan base, protesting media and image-cognizant ownership. They’ll deal him if they have to; they’ll send him anywhere; and they won’t care how Reyes feels about it.

Reyes is smart enough to know this.

Why did he sign the deal?

It appears as though the bottom-line dollar figure was more important than any personal protections that could’ve been inserted into the contract. If Reyes was willing to take the lower amount of money from the Mets in exchange for that no-trade clause, he absolutely would’ve gotten it.

But he wanted to get paid. His agents, the Greenbergs, had an undeniable stake in maximizing his dollars as a selling point to Reyes and their other clients. In reality, there will be whispers and outright statements from the other agents that the Reyes contract was lowball; they should’ve waited and demanded that no-trade clause.

They didn’t.

He’ll get his $106 million. Whether it’s from the Marlins for the life of the contract is contingent on the multiple factors surrounding the club and their too-clever-for-their-own-good ownership.

The contract and advancement of evil.

In the spire of a heavily guarded skyscraper a shadowy figure sits in a darkened office.

His eyes glow with hint of red that may be an optical illusion, a casting of light or terrifyingly real.

His fingers are tented under his chin; his mouth a thin line of concentration, he waits.

He’ll use this. This example of foolhardy loyalty; ill-advised pragmatism; brainless adherence to a limiting code of propriety.

Ethics. Personal attachment. Emotions.

He shakes his head at the faux and misplaced morality.

Emitting a grunting sound comparable to the stifling of a laugh, the corners of his lips curl into a sneer. His nose crinkles as his mouth twitches. His nostrils flare as he grins. The grunt evolves into a chuckle then a full-blown laugh.

Hysterical and maniacal, it continues for an extended period and echoes through the cavernous and sparsely furnished room.

It stops suddenly.

The muffled wheeling sound of an oversized leather chair—similar in scope to a throne—is heard as he rises from his desk. He walks deliberately to the window overlooking the curvature of the earth in the distance; the lights of Los Angeles in the foreground. He interlocks his fingers behind him, his legs spread wide apart.

He’s contemplating how he will use this turn of events. The obvious answer is that he’ll frame it just as he frames everything else—advantageously, twisted and designed to achieve his nefarious ends.

There is no functioning as an advocate and representative of the individuals. He has a mandate to his defined job, but he’ll do it differently. Using this inexplicable turn of events as a tendril of connectivity from one to the other, his current stable of clients will benefit from this and assist him in accruing others who want him to deliver what only he can, by any means necessary.

He pauses and looks over his shoulder, his profile in view against the background of the windows, the moon and stars of the Southern California night.

One thing passes through Scott Boras’s mind over and over as he thinks back to his ill-fated pursuit of Jose Reyes as a client at mid-summer.

How do you not get a no trade clause?!?!

He shakes his head in disgust of what is, of what might have—should have—been.

The profile recedes into the dark.

He has work to do.

//

The Papelbon Aftershocks

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

Jonathan Papelbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia Phillies

This is as simple as it gets.

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

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

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

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

Boston Red Sox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparisons

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

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

Ryan was lefty; Papelbon righty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media/Fans

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

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

The Phillies needed Papelbon and they bought him.

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

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

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

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

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

They know.

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

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

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

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

//

The Albert Pujols Mock Draft

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If Keith Law were to travel back in time to 1999—before he became the unwitting victim caught in the crossfire in that rare moment of Michael Lewis being completely honest; was subject to the formative mind-poisoning of the diabolical J.P. Ricciardi; prior to turning into Mr. Smartypants who played semantical handball with the truth—where would he place Albert Pujols in his indispensable mock MLB draft?

Without getting into another rant about the negligibility of the MLB draft—that it’s not like the NFL or NBA; there are so many variables in a player making in and succeeding in the big leagues that the moneymaking aspect of the MLB draft has sabotaged all comprehension to its randomness—you can’t give the Cardinals credit for taking Pujols any more than you can blame other clubs for passing on him.

Most recently, the revisionist history of why teams missed out on Pujols and the Cardinals were able to snag him (if you consider drafting someone in the 13th round “snagging”) extended to Jonah Keri’s otherwise engaging book about the Tampa Bay Rays, The Extra 2%.

Keri spent an entire chapter using as a basis for the perceived ineptitude of the original Rays regime that they had a workout for Pujols and subsequently snubbed him even after he rocked line drives all over Tropicana Field.

It’s a shaky premise at best.

Every other team missed on Pujols; it was the Cardinals who selected him.

No one thinks that a 13th round pick is going to make it to the big leagues; will be productive; turn into an All Star; or evolve into this—the monster who hit 3 home runs last night and is the best pure right-handed hitter in baseball since Joe DiMaggio.

The excuses are far-ranging and, in a sense, viable.

He had no position. The competition he played against in junior college was mediocre. His grasp of the language was limited. He was skinny. They don’t know how old he was.

Some of them are still in question.

The PED aspect has and will forever hover around Pujols. Unless his name pops up somewhere in a quack doctor’s notes or some drug middleman’s plea deal, he’ll be innocent; but we can never be sure he’s entirely clean. That’s just the way it is today.

As for Pujols’s age, I still don’t believe he’s only about to turn 32.

Be that as it may, such a tremendous player sitting undrafted until the 13th round is a testament to Pujols’s determination to succeed; his latent talent that may have taken a few years to completely manifest itself; the opportunity to play…and the ridiculousness of the draft.

If Pujols had struggled at any point in the minors, he’d have been released or traded—such is the nature of a later round draft pick in whom little money is invested.

That too, is the way it is.

We can let slide some of the star-level names that were taken in the 1st round of that 1999 draft—Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito or Ben Sheets; and we can discount the “tools” players like Mike MacDougal and Alexis Rios.

But Eric Munson? Corey Myers? Dave Walling?

And before anyone comes up with the egocentric idiocy of the Yankees “doing most of their damage” in the 20th round and above, they too let Pujols go sailing by; said myth of the Yankees being so astute that they selected star-level players like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada past the 20th round of the 1990 draft is retrospective nonsense—they got lucky; maybe if Pujols had lasted until round 22, they’d have grabbed him rather than Chris Klosterman.

Would Pujols have been noticed had his name been Josh Pujols?

These factors are indicative of the capriciousness of the draft and no amount of woulda/shoulda/coulda is going to alter that reality.

Would-be MLB draftiks seeking to mimic the admirable Mel Kiper Jr., endeavoring to create a career where there wasn’t one before are ignorant that I could thumb through a copy of Baseball America a week before the draft and find a series of names that would shield me from criticism (and that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?) for taking a certain player over another without having the faintest clue as to whom he is or whether or not he can actually play.

Albert Pujols hit 3 homers in a World Series game last night; this is while he was enduring a savage media onslaught for daring not to speak to them after game 2.

Pujols has a tendency to shut people up the right way—on the field.

Complain all you want for his absence from the microphones, but do so while bowing to him as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the sport.

Such an appellation gives an automatic break for “unprofessional” behaviors.

He gets away with it because he can.

And he deserves to.

Because he’s the best.

Period.

//

That Rays Magic

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Closer attention is being paid to the Tampa Bay Rays and their “way”.

A large part of this is because of Jonah Keri’s book, The Extra 2%.

The hunger for a template in how to build a team using different methods was what created the myth of Moneyball and resulted in the disastrous attempts inside and outside of baseball to follow and validate that fantasy written by Michael Lewis.

Keri’s book is not twisted in the manner of Moneyball; it simply tells how the Rays have accomplished what they have within a tight budget in a hellish division. There’s no pompous, unsaid but clear statement, “this is the way you should do it or you’re a moron” inherent in the telling of the Rays tale.

And it’s why they’re built to last regardless of free agent defections; necessary trades; lack of financial resources and whatever other obstacles pop into their collective paths.

In 2011, they’re again defying conventional wisdom as they’ve rebounded from a rotten start to climb into first place in a division that still houses the Yankees and Red Sox along with the improving Blue Jays and Orioles.

So how have they done it this time?

Like in Keri’s book, it’s been a combination of luck, intelligence and putting their team into a position to succeed by executing the fundamentals correctly.

Let’s take a look how they Rays are at it again.

A blessing in disguise.

Manny Ramirez‘s retirement saved the Rays nearly $2 million. Presumably, had he held out in his contention that he didn’t use any PEDs that led to the failed drug test and precipitated his sudden retirement, they wouldn’t have had to pay him, but the money for Manny’s contract might’ve been tied up throughout the process of his investigation. To the Rays, that money isn’t an incidental cost—they need every penny they can get. With Manny off the books, that gives them nearly $2 million to add at mid-season in a deal.

I’m not convinced that Manny was completely finished despite his 1 for 17 start with no walks; he still had to be pitched to carefully and that would’ve held true into June—by then, other teams might’ve said, “let’s just pitch to Manny, he looks done”. Eventually, the Rays would’ve had no choice but to release him and pay the full freight.

Once Manny was gone, the Rays were free to move Johnny Damon to DH and insert Sam Fuld into the lineup. I’m not a believer in Fuld—midnight’s about to strike on his Cinderella story—but the Rays have gotten far more from Fuld than anyone could reasonably have expected; he can run and play great defense, two things that are constant whether he hits or not.

Desmond Jennings is murdering the ball in Triple A and it won’t be long before he’s up in the big leagues and playing left field in place of Fuld—that might not have happened this season had Manny hung around.

Pitching, speed and defense lead the way.

How is it possible that the Rays, with a gutted bullpen, injuries to Damon and Evan Longoria and a bunch of journeymen like Felipe Lopez, Kyle Farnsworth, Fuld and Casey Kotchman leading the way are still near the top of the tough AL East?

They have the speed to get to balls other clubs don’t and they catch it when they get there; they’re leading the American League in fielding percentage.

Bolstered by the confidence that balls that are kept in the ballpark are going to be caught, their pitchers throw strikes.

It’s easy to reference pitchers from the Rays past who’ve come into games and racked up massive strikeout numbers like Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit; but this year’s bullpen is an entirely new cast from the crew that was dispatched after last year and this staff is 12th in the American League in strikeouts.

More important than the strikeouts, they don’t walk anyone and allow few homers.

Could it be that the key to the Rays unlocking the aggravating abilities in Farnsworth and Juan Cruz—disparaged and dumped veterans both—are that simple? That they no longer has to worry about striking everyone out and can concentrate on keeping the ball down and in the ballpark confident in the knowledge that if there’s a defender anywhere close, he’ll catch it?

Maybe.

Hot starts and the beneficial schedule.

After he’d been knocked all over the place in the past two seasons, no one could’ve expected the hot start from James Shields.

Casey Kotchman is hitting .346.

You read that right.

Casey Kotchman is hitting .346.

Matt Joyce is hitting .369.

Ben Zobrist is back to being Zorilla.

Damon, Dan Johnson and Fuld have all gotten big hits or made game-saving defensive plays.

Had any of these occurrences not come to pass, the Rays would probably be hovering around .500 or worse.

The schedule has been an advantage for them as well.

The Rays 0-6 start was accumulated against a hot and enthusiastic Buck Showalter-led Orioles club and the Angels in games pitched by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. This was seen as a portent of a long season in Tampa.

But they righted the ship against the Red Sox as they too staggered out of the gate; they then fattened their record against the Twins, White Sox and falling-to-earth Orioles.

They’ve yet to play the Yankees and have the rough part of their schedule upcoming. They have to play the Marlins, Reds and Cardinals in inter-league play in addition to the regular matchups against the AL East.

Presumably, they’ll run into inevitable lulls because of playing better teams; but the Rays way isn’t a negligible bit of fundamental correctness. They have the players to execute their plan because they can run and catch the ball.

It’s a cohesiveness that permeates the club from top-to-bottom and it all starts with that small aspect of range and glovework. It’s extended to the pitching staff and overcomes an offense that was without their MVP candidate Longoria until last week and has relied on the aged; the journeyman; the young players who are trying to establish themselves.

It seems easy to say, “throw strikes and we’ll catch the ball”, but if it’s so easy, why don’t other teams do it?

Could it be that other teams don’t have the athletes to execute the plan? That the pitchers don’t trust their fielders to handle so many balls as flawlessly as the Rays do? That the Rays speed in the field extends to running the bases and they score enough to support the pitching staff that has garnered confidence from that defense?

It’s a cycle.

A cycle to win.

Given their upcoming schedule, I’m not prepared to jump on the Rays bandwagon as so many have (some of whom jumped off after the terrible start); but they’ll be competitive for the reasons elucidated above; and if they’re competitive late in the season, they’re dangerous.

Because they do the little things right.

And that ain’t Moneyball.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s good for fantasy players. For real and not fantasy.

I published a full excerpt of my book here; it’s creepily accurate.

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.

//

Viewer Mail 3.23.2011

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

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE The Extra 2%:

The book sounds interesting – certainly a must-read for Rays fans.

If Jonah Keri has to rely on Rays fans and Rays fans alone to buy and read the book, he’ll have a problem with sales.

All kidding aside, this book deserves far more attention than Moneyball because it doesn’t deify the Rays front office or cast them in a light that bears no resemblance to reality. It’s not an “everything they do works because they’re smart and forward thinking while you’re stunted and stupid”; it’s “this is what they did; this is why they did it; here’s what worked and what didn’t”.

Hopefully it’ll tear another stack of bricks from under the Moneyball myth.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Nationals, Jayson Werth and Ivan Rodriguez:

I keep forgetting about Jayson Werth’s completely laughable contract, then I read about it somewhere and my eyes pop out of my head like a cartoon character’s.

As far as Pudge goes, I think the guy’s got something left in the tank. Or maybe I just hope he does. If nothing else, I’m pulling for him to get his 3000th hit. I always loved the guy, for obvious reasons.

Speaking of cartoon characters, Pudge looks like someone inserted a pin into his entire body from when he was with the Rangers to now.

Hmmm…

Pudge can still catch and call a game; he’s a hole in the lineup, but certain teams can carry and use him.

There was an interesting piece about the Nats and their willingness to spend on MLB Trade Rumors. Zack Greinke said he was offered an $100 million extension to accept a trade to the Nationals and he turned it down because he felt the Brewers were closer to winning than the Nats.

I’m growing dubious at that belief considering everything that’s gone wrong for the Brewers so far this spring, but we’ll see.

As far as the Nats go, I have to practice what I preach. The Werth contract is insane, but my criteria for a stupid contract is when a club does something they want to do in lieu of that which they need to do. If Werth’s massive contract was going to preclude them from making other necessary improvements to the pitching staff for example, then it’s a terrible deal; but clearly owner Ted Lerner has money to spend and is going to spend it.

Who cares about the money if it’s not stopping them from going after a Greinke or after any of the free agents set to come available after this season?

If this is their strategy, the Nationals may be ready to make some legitimate noise by 2012.

Gabriel writes RE stereotypes:

I agree. Stereotypes are acceptable if that’s what the club needs, not just because it’s the default way of building a team. However, I think stereotypical players has diminished as part of the evolution of the baseball athlete. Players are better athletes than 30 years ago, which allows for players like Adrian González, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols, who are hitting AND fielding machines.

Attention paid to the number of runs a player is going to produce at the plate and cost in the field is a large part of it as well. There weren’t the advanced statistics attempting to count the number of runs a stone-gloved and immobile first baseman would cause 30 years ago.

Of course they’re taken out of context, accepted as unassailable and inarguable in some quarters, but there’s a tool to understanding; a team can debate whether it would’ve been worth it to sign a player like Adam Dunn—especially a National League team—considering his defensive shortcomings.

The days of “stick ‘im at first base and hide ‘im” are over no matter what Mike Francesa says.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE stereotypes and Earl Weaver:

You make a good point. I get stuck in those stereotypical roles myself… thinking that’s the way it’s gotta be. But it’s baseball! It can be anything it wants! Earl was a genius… just wish he could have racked up the rings with Baltimore. People have forgotten about the Oriole Way.

Weaver’s brilliance wasn’t limited to his reliance on his strategies, but that he didn’t allow personalities to infect his decisions. He didn’t care about individual achievement or perception—if a pitcher was working on a complete game and the Orioles had a better chance to win by Weaver removing him with 2 outs in the ninth inning, he removed him with 2 outs in the ninth inning; it wasn’t personal, it was business.

He was flexible with his roster, but strict in his discipline. If he had a team with little power, he’d resort to stealing bases even though he preferred 3-run homers; when Reggie Jackson was traded to the Orioles in 1976 and arrived for the team plane looking like something out of Shaft with a turtleneck and leather jacket, he had Brooks Robinson give him a tie, then Weaver pulled Reggie—Reggie!!—aside when they got to the team hotel, screamed at him, told him who was boss and that he’d behave and dress appropriately.

The man knew how to run a team and handle baseball players.

Peter at Capitol Avenue Club writes RE players and injuries:

I think it’s the player’s job to insist he can play through pain and it’s the job of the team’s management and medical staff to determine whether or not the pain he’s playing through is manageable or if it’s going to affect his performance and/or long-term health.

It’s a fine line between insinuating a player is milking an injury or is really too hurt to play. There are the players for whom it’s clear there are ancillary issues (Carl Pavano) along with a practical disinterest in doing everything he can to get back on the field; and others who have something wrong that hasn’t been properly diagnosed.

One such case is J.R. Richard who complained of having a “dead arm” and not feeling right for much of 1980; due to his standoffish personality and team circumstances with the Astros, he was perceived to be malingering and throwing a tantrum—basically pitching when he felt like it.

All questions were answered when on July 30th of that year, Richard had a stroke—NY Times Story–PDF File.

I can’t in good conscience judge when a player is too hurt to play even if the medical staff is insisting there’s nothing wrong. In the end, you can’t force them; in certain cases, there’s an underlying and potentially life-threatening risks at play. All that can be done is to look at a player’s history and decide whether or not he’s reliable.

To implicate someone in the fabrication of a self-serving story when they may truly be hurt or have a medical problem can result in disaster.

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.




//

Book Review—The Extra 2% By Jonah Keri

Books, Management, Players

There are easy and convenient explanations from both side of the spectrum in baseball analysis as to how the Tampa Bay Rays were able to craft one of the best and most efficient organizations in baseball.

Were they the product of stat-based theories with some outside-the-box application of strategies from other industries?

Were they beneficiaries of the ample number of high draft picks accumulated as a “benefit” of being so awful for so long?

Are there ancillary aspects to the surge from baseball purgatory to a case study of how to run a team properly?

Is it all of the above?

Jonah Keri answers all of these questions and more in The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First.

Stuck in a small market with an atrocious and difficult to access stadium; a history of heinous on-field results and rotten off-field behavior; awful front office decisionmaking; and an owner who micromanaged and alienated civic leaders and local businesses, the heretofore named Devil Rays were a laughingstock like no other.

There was no hope; no future; no reason to pay attention to them…until they were taken over by a young, fearless and energetic group led by Stuart Sternberg.

Foregoing what had failed in the past for the Devil Rays and other clubs, sifting through what worked and didn’t work by cutting to the heart of what makes a successful player, team and organization, the newly named Rays have become the blueprint on how to run a baseball team whether in large or small market.

What was the secret?

Those who are invested deeply in stats see the Rays as a validation of their way of doing things with cold, objective reasoning; old-school thinkers point to the high draft picks, speed, pitching and defense that would’ve made John McGraw proud; others (myself included before reading the book) feel that the Rays turnaround began in earnest once they stopped tolerating players like Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young whose behaviors on and off the field led to the perception that the Rays were like the lawless deserts of Yemen—anything goes with no one willing to put a stop to it. They also stopped bowing to the Yankees and Red Sox as evidenced by the willingness to get into on-field scraps with both.

The truth is that it’s a combination of everything.

Sternberg, team president Matthew Silverman and de facto GM Andrew Friedman took advantage of the foundation that was left by the prior regime; they were lucky with players like Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour, Dan Johnson and Carlos Pena; they jettisoned the likes of Dukes and Hamilton and were unperturbed by Hamilton’s blossoming into a star with the Reds and Rangers; they got rid of Young, but made sure they acquired the pieces—Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett—that were a tremendous boon to their leap into a pennant winner.

The Rays took bits and pieces from everyone and everything.

They utilized former Indians and Rangers GM John Hart’s innovation of locking up players long-term before they reached arbitration years; it was that which allowed them to sign Evan Longoria to what’s being called the most value-laden contract in baseball history.

Dumping contracts before they became prohibitive—like their trading of Scott Kazmir—provided freedom to do other things they would otherwise not have been able to do like trade for an established closer in Rafael Soriano.

They’ve opened baseball academies in countries where baseball isn’t a known entity; I’ve long thought there were ripe areas to explore in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America. The Rays are doing that and finding players whose athletic skills would’ve been on a soccer field rather than a diamond; they’re bound to find players in this manner and other clubs will by copying them.

Of course, sports is reliant on people and their performance; you can’t look at the numbers, calculate a formula and automatically expect the desired result—it doesn’t work that way. In any endeavor of dealing with human beings, there are bound to be times for a necessary and conscious decision to deviate from established praxis.

The front office and manager Joe Maddon are aware of this; Maddon is allowed the freedom within structure to defer to his baseball wisdom—accrued through years and years of doing anything and everything within the game—and run his team as a man with a brain and not as some faceless, middle-managing automaton.

Maddon isn’t under threat of job security if one of his off-beat maneuvers doesn’t work. I’m on record as saying that I don’t like the way Maddon game-manages; nor am I a fan of his quirky “theme trips” like players wearing hockey jerseys on the road. I’m the “you’re wearing a coat and tie and shut up” guy; but Maddon’s style is suited to the Rays from the front office through the players.

Sections in the book—such as the discussion of how the Rays missed out on Albert Pujols (it’s specious and mentioned that every team except the Cardinals missed on Pujols); and the battle for viability with no money and a terrible ballpark—drag a bit; but this is no love letter to the Rays way of doing business at the expense of dissenting thought.

All voices are heard without ridicule or dismissal.

The Extra 2% and the Rays turnaround under a strict budget is compared to the Moneyball model, but Moneyball and The Extra 2% are sparsely compatible. You can almost see Keri’s subtle and lightly expressed eye-rolling at the cut-and-dried nature in which Moneyball was presented as a biblical text; that the implication in Moneyball of “if you don’t do it this way, you’re a moron; Billy Beane is Midas, period” is viewed with disdain.

The Extra 2% is not Moneyball and like other strategies, the narrative therein cannot be copied by mirroring what the Rays have done. Each circumstance is different. One question postulated and answered is whether the Rays would be able to run their club the way they do if they were in a more scrutinizing market with a fan base that reacted angrily if something like trading a Kazmir was done while the team was still in a moderate form of contention.

The easy answer is no.

But given the fearlessness with which the front office has squeezed every ounce of use they could from the players they’ve had and dispatched them without remorse, I believe they would run the team in the best way based on the bottom line of winning and doing it within their financial parameters; it’s a testament to the strategy. It’s not about taking Wall Street to baseball; it’s about doing what is necessary to maximize the investment and that, more than anything else, is the overriding theme of the book.

The Rays way is done without smugness, condescension or abuse; it’s systematic and it works. You’ll see that in Keri’s book.

Speaking of books, my book got a nice shoutout on Twitter from WCBS in New York sportscaster Otis Livingston.

olivingstonnyc

You can’t start your baseball season off right before checking out http://amzn.to/hSJEEO and get my buddy @PRINCE_OF_NY book.. I did!

I published a full excerpt on Wednesday 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.


//

Behold The Bad

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Or is it bad is in the eye of the beholder?

One man’s pragmatism is another man’s amorality.

There are some that consider Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria capricious, petulant and impossible; that he uses threats and bullying to get his way.

Did he use unethical tactics to force the state of Florida to build him a new ballpark? Has he played Jedi mind tricks with MLB itself to pocket a vast chunk of the revenue sharing his low-budget Marlins receive from the other clubs? Does he play fast and loose with semantics to enrich himself?

Maybe.

But does he run one of the more efficient and successful teams (in terms of bang for the buck) in baseball? Does he have a championship ring? Is there a new ballpark on the way for his team, accomplishing something the prior owner—the just as ruthless, albeit with a smile—Wayne Huizenga?

Yes.

You can say whatever you want about Loria.

He’s straddled or crossed the line of perceived propriety in conducting business; his clever chicanery is discussed in detail in Jonah Keri’s book—The Extra 2%—about his Florida statemates, the Rays. (I read the book and a review will be coming soon.)

But Loria is a businessman.

He’s a smart businessman.

He essentially traded the first club he owned, the Expos, for the Marlins; he made his money in the art world which often has nothing to do with quality, but what people think is quality based on what they’re told; how others value a certain piece of work.

You can find this phenomenon in any endeavor which has a non-linear way of judging value like music, writing and filmmaking—even baseball with its increasing reliance on stats is a transient and judgmental landscape.

You can “pump and dump” anything including athletes; such a strategy is the hallmark of a large part of the creative world. Hype can make or break a song, book, film or painting.

Loria has populated his Marlins front office with smart and gutsy people who know baseball and make unconventional decisions. From president of baseball operations (the true baseball boss) Larry Beinfest; to GM Michael Hill; to player personnel men Jim Fleming and Dan Jennings, there’s an intelligence and talent recognition skill that has kept the Marlins competitive despite the imposed payroll constraints.

So now Loria is being referred to as a George Steinbrenner wannabe because he’s angry at the Marlins poor play in spring training—Palm Beach Post Story—but he’s the owner of the team. If he has unrealistic expectations and is demanding, that’s within his rights as the owner.

He wanted to fire Joe Girardi because Girardi talked back to him in 2006? He took the side of Hanley Ramirez in a dispute with former manager Fredi Gonzalez? He’s angry that the team is looking clueless in spring training?

So what?

He owns the team.

The Marlins are talented, but flawed. I said as much in response to a question about their 2011 hopes for contention—Viewer Mail 3.14.2011—and they’re working with a manager on a 1-year contract who’s clearly under fire already.

Is it the “optimal” way to run a team? Not for the fleeting tastes of those who are looking to hide amongst the rabble and don’t think for themselves; those that are reluctant to state a dissenting opinion for fear of being shouted down or cast out.

No matter what you think of Loria and his aesthetics, you can’t argue with his financial intelligence, winning within a budget and getting himself the cash cow of a new ballpark without having to pay for it.

It’s business and there are about 20 teams/fan bases in baseball who’d be in much better shape right now if they had the Marlins front office—from the owner on down—running their teams.

MLB and the media can gnash their collective teeth and shake their heads all they want, but Loria—like Steinbrenner—built something through any number of means that could be seen as illegal, sleazy, mean and outright crazy.

But look at the results.

Isn’t that what matters?

The bottom line?

I published a full excerpt of my book yesterday 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.


//

Cold And Indifferent Truth

Hot Stove

Neither love-fest nor shooting gallery, on the day of his retirement, here’s the icy and brutally honest assessment of Andy Pettitte‘s career with its ups-and-downs; truths amid embellishments.

On the field and in a dark alley:

A player establishes relatively quickly whether he’s going to be able to handle the big stage of New York with the media, the attention, the temptations.

One thing that has aided the Yankees during the last 15 years of consistent championship contention has gone under-reported—that their “core four” Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada have stayed out of the front of the newspaper in a negative sense.

Aside from the Roger Clemens-PED controversy (more on that in a bit), as far as we know, Pettitte has been as clean off the field as he was gutty on it; the same can be said of Jeter, Rivera and Posada.

Jeter of course is as big a star as an athlete can possibly be and he’s a bon vivant nonpareil, but he’s shunned controversy and never consciously placed himself into a position where he could be embarrassed.

It was a more difficult road for Pettitte as he was a soft-spoken and subdued Texan; a handsome young athlete who likely had more negative influences available because of the evident shyness. The questions abounded if Pettitte was genuine or if the image was a means-to-an-end for the club and player.

But they were avoided.

If anything was a key to the Yankees run, it was that on and off field professionalism. Vultures and greenflies hover around a young athlete especially in New York; if he keeps from succumbing, he’s free to perform on the field.

As a pitcher, Pettitte was never the most dominant, but there was something about him that said he wasn’t going to wilt in the spotlight. He started his big league career in 1995 out of necessity as an extra arm out of the Yankees bullpen and didn’t enter the starting rotation until a month later. As a rookie he went 12-9 and was a major part of the Yankees late season run to the playoffs; his first post-season start against the Mariners was serviceable, but he was warming up in the bullpen when Jack McDowell blew game 5 in the series loss.

In the 1996 regular season, he went 21-8 and blossomed into a full-blown star; it was in the playoffs that his reputation began to cement itself. His performance in game 5—8 1/3 innings of 5 hit, no run ball, set the stage for the championship clincher in game 6.

As the years passed, Pettitte’s career didn’t follow the path some assumed it would. Rather than continue and improve, he became a cog in the machine. With high ERAs and accumulation of wins in the regular season, there was never an overt “fear” of Andy Pettitte where teams worried about not being able to score runs; he took advantage of the run-scoring machine those Yankees were; that they had a terrific bullpen and he won a lot of games.

You knew at the beginning of each season what you were going to get from Pettitte; that’s not on a level with the devastation a pitcher like Pedro Martinez brought forth on his victims, but it may have been as important. Knowing someone’s going to be there and not cower in the face of danger is a valuable asset.

Pettitte’s career took him to the Astros—a fact that’s conveniently glossed over in the postmortems of his career—and he left the Yankees as a matter of choice. It was said to have partially been due to the disrespect he felt he was receiving from the Yankees organization; that they had other priorities and fell asleep at the switch with their financial might seen as the final arbiter (sounds familiar now, doesn’t it?); but Pettitte took less money from the Astros after a desperation offer from the Yankees failed.

Three years later, he returned, did the same job he did in his first stint with the Yankees. Never dominant; always consistent; durable and money in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, when the Yankees were said to have offered a contract to Carl Pavano, I said that Pavano is not the person I’d want at my back in a dark alley unless there was a beach, a Porsche dealership and a modeling agency in clear view on the other side; with Pettitte, I’d have no such hesitation—he’s the guy you want protecting you. If he lost, it wasn’t due to a lack of conviction or courage; it was because he got beat.

The PEDs and sullying of his reputation:

It’s not to be totally dismissed that Pettitte admitted to having used HGH. He claimed it was trying to overcome an injury and earn his paycheck by continuing to pitch.

As cynical as I am and knowing the way people almost universally are, I believe him. Just like I believe his assertion that he told the truth about Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee because it was the right thing to do—it’s a rarity.

Multi-millionaire athletes think nothing of flinging overboard a convenient scapegoat to save themselves; Pettitte could’ve done that with his testimony in the Clemens case, but didn’t.

Is it a giant black mark on his career or a mere blot?

I say it’s a blot; continually reference in calling Pettitte a “cheater” is a cheap, agenda-laden shot. It has nothing to do with the notion—which cannot be answered by an outsider—that Pettitte “wouldn’t do that”. You nor I would know what he’s up to in his private life; but I believe him when he says he used the drugs briefly and stopped.

In this era with Rafael Palmeiro‘s finger pointing and Clemens’s “misrememberations”, it was refreshing in the Jason Giambi sense that he did it and wasn’t going to lie about it. With Giambi, there was a bumpkin-like innocence that he was in court and under oath and wasn’t going to present falsehoods; with Pettitte it was because he knew what happened and wasn’t going to make a difficult situation worse for himself by denying that which he knew to be true.

The aftermath for player and club:

Could Pettitte, at age 39, decide at some point that he wants to play? And would the Yankees have him?

Of course.

But the team had to have prepared for this eventuality; Pettitte’s gone and, for all intents and purposes, he’s not coming back. I believe that the lack of desire played a part in his decision, but I also think that a physical breakdown is an issue; with back, muscle and elbow problems, to think that he’d again be the horse he’s been in the past is ignoring reality.

I doubt Pettitte wanted to go through a year of not knowing which pitch would be his last; whether his back or elbow would blow at any moment.

The reactions to the retirement have bordered on nonsensical.

I truly loathe when a club is attacked for that which they didn’t do, but the attacker doesn’t present a viable solution.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the following on Twitter yesterday:

LH targets kicked around by some #Yankees people: J. Saunders, S. Kazmir, W. LeBlanc, C. Richard, G. Gonzalez. Just ideas right now. #MLB

Some of the names are shots in the dark; others are absurd. For what possible reason would the Padres want to trade Clayton Richard? Why would the A’s trade Gio Gonzalez? More examples of the media coming to solutions in the vein of “the Yankees want, therefore the Yankees get” like talk show callers who want to trade Brett Gardner for Albert Pujols.

Scott Kazmir? Joe Saunders? Wade LeBlanc?

Good luck.

Also Fangraphs suggested the Yankees trade for Barry Zitolink.

Naturally Jonah Keri delivered the same stat-based “reality” that makes this a good plan. Much like the extolling of the Mariners last season, their numbers bypass the reality that Zito would get blasted in the American League East. The patient hitters in the division and throughout the league would do a number on him; he’d give the Yankees 200 innings and post an ERA of 5.50 with a load of homers, 5 inning starts and plenty of walks.

They’re better off with what they have rather than take the remaining $64.5 million guaranteed on Zito’s contract; presumably, he might demand that his full option for 2014 ($18 million) be exercised rather than the $7 million buyout; and Keri suggests that the Giants might pick up half of the money.

Why?

Like the Padres trading Richard, what’s in it for them aside from getting the Yankees top prospects whom GM Brian Cashman is not trading for Zito.

And finally, there’s Wallace Matthews on ESPN—link.

Matthews’s piece is conspicuous in its criticism without a solution.

What did he want them to do?

Let’s say they were putting faith in his competitiveness and more money would overcome Pettitte’s implication that he was done; what was the pitching market past Cliff Lee?

Could they have traded for Zack Greinke? Maybe. Perhaps they should’ve rolled the dice on the off-field questions surrounding Greinke’s suitability for New York and surrendered whatever it took to get him—Jesus Montero, Ivan Nova, whatever—but they chose not to do that. And I understand why.

The Pavano move would’ve been insane; but what were their options? Much like my questioning to the critics as to what Mets GM Sandy Alderson was supposed to do this winter aside from what he’s done, what was the diabolical scheme that Matthews would’ve executed to repair the fissures in the Yankees rotation?

I read the column and didn’t see one idea from Matthews—maybe because past Lee, there wasn’t one.

Andy Pettitte has retired.

It’s not a national tragedy; not fodder for Yankees ridicule; not an opportunity to savage their front office for inaction.

Instead Pettitte should be appreciated for what he was and not canonized as a demagogue for his attributes. That diminishes rather than aggrandizes. Holding him to a higher standard will ruin the good that he did on and off the field.

He won five championships; he behaved professionally and with class; he made a lot of money; and he told the truth.

It’s a great career without being great.

That should be enough for now.

And forever.