Josh Hamilton, SBNation and the insincere business-based apology

MLB

How many crackheads just out of rehab do you see the Texas Rangers giving gainful employment? How many cocaine addicted street hookers pimped out by their drug dealers and offering quick services in Lower Manhattan are getting lucrative baseball jobs in an effort to save them? What are the job prospects of a known addict who can’t be trusted to carry cash?

It’s hard for people with these issues to get any kind of a job, let alone one that pays them as well as what Josh Hamilton is paid.

So let’s not act as if the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Rangers or anyone else who’s dealt with Hamilton on a professional basis was indulging in a philanthropic attempt to assist substance abusers. This isn’t a societal cleanup nor is it a selfless attempt to save a life. The Angels gave Hamilton that $125 million contract because they felt they could use his bat and he’d maintain his sobriety. They were wrong. The Rangers took him back for a pittance because they’re a reeling organization, saddled with terrible contracts, and declining fan attendance. Maybe Hamilton can help them with one or all of those problems.

There’s a reason why all of this is happening and it’s not human kindness. He was allowed to nearly toss his career away with drugs and given numerous other chances because of the same gifts that made him the first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft. Whether the self-abuse has finally caught up to him physically is something that will be determined once he’s back on the field, an event that should be coming in the next several weeks. He’s getting chance after chance because he could once hit a baseball nine miles. If that wasn’t the case, his former employers might be willing to help him, but there would be a clear limit to how far they’d go.

While most people in baseball will say they hope for the best for Hamilton, there’s also an undercurrent of head shaking and “you did this to yourself” finger wagging. The political correctness that rules the day will preclude that from being clearly stated by the vast majority, but it’s there.

This leads directly into the deleted blog post by the Halos Heaven blog on SBNation. While the general reaction to the post was that it was heartless and cruel, it’s indicative of the declining level of discourse in our society, the lack of accountability, the fearlessness that comes from (probably) never having to face the people attacked on the internet, and the lack of training as a reporter and its consequences of everyone having a forum and playing “writer.”

The explanation – not an apology – that the author of the original post gave was illuminating as to what led to the post in the first place. It’s not meanness. It’s not a lack of caring. It’s a complete absence of accountability and focus on the self in opposition to providing intelligent foundation for discourse. It was an angry Angels fan who had undoubtedly said equally incendiary things about other subjects in the past but got away with it because there wasn’t the enraged backlash as there was to this last, blaze of glory act that ended up getting him tossed from the site.

Let’s not turn SBNation into a credible news organization. It’s a forum and a niche site with advertising, promotion and significant financial backing. That doesn’t make it credible. We’re not talking about a New York Times or Wall Street Journal editorial. It’s not even a Keith Olbermann Special Comment. It’s a schlock site with a vast proportion of fans who are expressing themselves. Sometimes that will come out as offensive.

There’s an arrogance that comes from public attention and the perception of success regardless of the quality of what’s presented. Those who find themselves getting paid for what these sites truly need – content and web hits – equate paid writing gigs with an ability to write; to analyze; to editorialize; to assess. In today’s world, there’s often not a connection between the two.

Had it not been so fresh an issue and no one paid attention to what was written, then there wouldn’t have been the uproar. They fired the writer. He claims they mutually parted ways. Their version of SBNation’s oversight was to reference the platform’s policies when it comes to content. The reason this happened is, as with most bloggers, there was no actual interaction between the writer and the subject.

Because this was dealt with in a way to assuage the masses who felt that the post was line-crossing, it doesn’t mean that there’s true regret.

Had the percentages been reversed and the public reaction to Hamilton’s relapse been 90 percent as disgusted with him as the Halos Heaven writer was and 10 percent calling for compassion, there would have been applause instead of public shaming and a loss of employment. That’s the reality. The person who ran Halos Heaven was bad for business and that’s why he’s gone. Not due to the Hamilton post. That’s simply a byproduct.

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Josh Hamilton’s relapse: Is it really a surprise?

MLB

Josh Hamilton’s sobriety was always hanging on a spindly tendril that was capable of snapping at any time. For all we know, it had snapped several times including the incident in which he was photographed drinking and partying in a bar and this latest one in which he’s admitted to Major League Baseball that he’d used cocaine and alcohol over this off-season.

Are you surprised?

Really?

I can accept sadness, hope and even religious introspection in response to this news, but surprise? No. You’re not surprised because if you’ve kept an eye on Hamilton from the time he got back into baseball, you’ll know he was always teetering on the verge of another free fall. If you’ve paid attention to Hamilton from the time he was the first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft, nearly demolished his career and life with his self-abuse and got clean making a triumphant and inspiring return to baseball, you’ll know that he’d traded one dreamlike state for another. First it was the empty, false bliss of self-anesthetizing through alcohol and drugs, then it was repeated references to Jesus and his faith. Whatever you believe in terms of religion, it was obvious that Hamilton was still shunning full blown personal responsibility.

The dream-eyed, glazed over, “nothing is in my control therefore nothing is my responsibility” was destined to fail. The same media people and fans who are “praying” for Hamilton and writing impassioned pieces regarding their hope for his return to health are showing their hypocrisy after either publicly or privately rolling their eyes when he made such patently ludicrous statements that God told him he was going to hit a home run in the World Series. Now there are again references to an all-powerful being that has seemingly abandoned Hamilton when he needed “Him” the most.

There was hope that Hamilton would stay straight, but the signs have been there for years that he wouldn’t and it goes beyond the first few years of his professional career, frittered away in the spiral of addiction.

While the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Hamilton’s current employer – will express support for Hamilton on his road to wellness, they’d like nothing more than to speed up time to run the clock out on his contract’s expiration after the 2017 season. While the Texas Rangers placed Hamilton in a cocoon as he blossomed into an MVP and superstar, they refused to go beyond a certain level in what they offered him when his free agency arrived because they knew that it was a realistic, if not inevitable, possibility that he’d fall off the wagon. They seemed somewhat relieved that he left. In fact, they basically pushed him out the door. The Cincinnati Reds and the Tampa Bay Rays – the other teams that employed Hamilton – did everything they could to help him.

Not one did any of this out of care for a fellow human being.

While there might have been a speck of humanity in the decisions on the part of these organizations, there was also the matter of Hamilton’s natural gifts making him worth the risk. Those natural gifts made him the first overall pick in the draft. Those natural gifts got him another chance and, to his credit, he took advantage of it. But to suggest that these teams tolerated the danger of Hamilton falling off the wagon through benevolence, charity and human kindness ignores reality. The fact is that if Hamilton had been a 12th round draft pick who had these same problems, he would have been dispatched and gone from baseball forever with nary a concern as to whether he lived or died, let alone cleaned up. Teams placed him in a protective box because they felt they could take the chance to use his ability to literally do anything on a baseball field. For the Reds and Rangers, it worked. For the Angels, it hasn’t.

It’s somewhat appropriate that his public fall occurred while playing for a team located in Southern California. There’s an unrealistic fantasy that athletes, actors and anyone else who has addiction issues will be able to recover their sobriety and live their lives in a fairy tale of the power of treatment and redemption. Much of this is a crafted tale to promote an agenda and adhere to editorial mandates to push feel good stories to the masses and perhaps inspire those who have the same issues to seek treatment and hold to their sobriety. Whatever the reason, this is no shock.

For those who say “pray” for Hamilton or that he hit a hiccup in his sobriety are also taking the responsibility away from where it belongs: Hamilton. No one forced him to place himself in a situation where he might use again. No one held him down and poured alcohol down his throat. He did this to himself. Perhaps he deserves sympathy. Maybe he’s worthy of pity. But for someone who had been granted a gift to play baseball better than nearly anyone in this generation to take steps to destroy it, make it back well enough to receive $150+ million in guaranteed contracts, and go back to using is the same self-destructiveness that almost ruined his life and career 15 years ago.

According to all accounts, Hamilton is a gentle person; a nice man; someone who cares about his teammates, fans and helping others. On the field, the Angels made a mistake in giving him that contract. Off the field, it was an act of blatant stupidity that was destined to blow up in their faces. It did.

He doesn’t deserve an endless array of entreaties to “pray” for him. According to Hamilton, he did plenty of that himself and it didn’t work. There are many people in the world who deserve prayer if you believe in that sort of thing. Josh Hamilton isn’t one of them.

Yaisel Puig and the All-Star Game

All Star Game, Games, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.

Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?

Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.

There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.

There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.

If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.

With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?

This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?

Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.

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Rethinking the GM, Part III—American League West

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Click on these links to read part I and part II.

Texas Rangers

Jon Daniels is a popular and well-respected GM today but that wasn’t the case when he took over for John Hart in October of 2005 and one of the first big trades he made sent Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. That will go down as one of the worst trades in the history of the sport.

If he was able to rebound from that and craft the Rangers into an annual contender with a reasonable payroll and deep farm system while dealing with the alpha-male presence of Nolan Ryan and navigating his way through the financial woes of former owner Tom Hicks, then he’s got something on the ball.

Daniels got the GM job very young at 28 and clearly wasn’t ready for it, but grew into the job and is not a stat guy or scouting guy, but uses every outlet at his disposal and is also able to do the dirty work mentioned earlier to consolidate his power.

Oakland Athletics

Just ignore Moneyball for a moment when thinking about Billy Beane. Look at his body of work without the accolades, best-selling book and ridiculous move to accompany the star status Beane’s cultivated and persona Beane has created and look at his work objectively. Is he a good GM who worked his way up through the ranks from scouting to assistant GM to GM to part owner? Yes. Would he be as lusted after without that ridiculous bit of creative non-fiction known as Moneyball? No.

It can be argued that Moneyball has done an exponential amount of damage in comparison to the good it did in introducing the world at large to statistics that they would not otherwise have realized existed. Due to Moneyball, everyone thinks they can study a spreadsheet, calculate some numbers and suddenly run a big league baseball team. One of the under-reported aspects of Moneyball is that Beane played in the Major Leagues with a nondescript career as a journeyman when he was talented enough to be a superstar. It’s part of the narrative that made the Beane story so fascinating, but now that he’s become this totem many of his worshippers probably aren’t even aware that he played at all.

Beane had a perfect storm when he took over as GM. There had been a brief Sports Illustrated profile of him and his transition for player to scout and he was known in MLB circles as an up-and-comer, but the Athletics were so bad and so consistently bad for several years due to financial constraints that Beane was able to implement the strategies of statistics into his player procurement. It worked because no one else was doing it or paying big money for players who didn’t just get on base, but had undervalued attributes.

Beane’s “genius” has been a media creation. He’s been smart, he’s been lucky and he’s also been unlucky. He’s crafted the image of the brilliantly cold corporate titan when it’s not true. He’s a former player who entered the front office, took advantage of the opportunities presented to him and has been successful. A large part of that is due to the circular nature of Moneyball giving him the freedom and leeway to make bad trades and have half-a-decade of futility in which he blamed everyone but the man in the mirror and still kept his job.

Los Angeles Angels

Jerry Dipoto has two issues that are tarnishing his reputation as a GM. One, people don’t remember that it was Dipoto, functioning as the interim GM of the Diamondbacks after Josh Byrnes was fired in 2010, who made two trades that have paid significant dividends to the current Diamondbacks by acquiring Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs for Dan Haren and getting Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson. Two, he’s overseeing an Angels team that has played better recently but is still in rampant disarray with overpaid, underperforming players; a manager who has had his own power within the organization mitigated by the hiring of Dipoto; and is trying to rebuild the farm system in his own way with scouts he knows and a new school sensibility while the owner wants a championship now and the manager has a contract to 2018. It’s highly doubtful that Dipoto wanted to commit so much money and so many years to the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Dipoto was a journeyman relief pitcher who scouted and worked in many front offices with varying philosophies before getting the Angels job and is a qualified baseball man. It’s difficult to know what he’s wanted to do with the Angels and what’s been forced upon him. If the situation really comes apart, he might be cleared out with the rest of the Angels hierarchy and have to wait to get another opportunity due to the damage done to his reputation with what’s happening with the Angels.

Seattle Mariners

The ice is cracking under the feet of Jack Zduriencik and if he is eventually dismissed he will be a cautionary tale that no one will listen to when anointing the next “genius” by giving credit for that which he had nothing to do with. After the fact, if you ask Zduriencik what his biggest regret is, it’s likely to be that the Mariners had such a luck-filled rise from 101 losses the year before he arrived to 85 wins in his first year on the job. It accelerated the process spurring the trade for Cliff Lee and drastically raised the expectations.

Unsurprisingly the expectations were not met; much of Zduriencik’s subsequent moves have gone wrong and if he is indeed fired, the next GM will likely benefit from the farm system seeds Zduriencik planted. That brings me to the next point: there are GMs who are better-served as assistants, farm directors, scouts, and other lower-level positions in an organization. It may not be as flashy, but is no less important and for all the talk of “GM prospects,” it must be examined whether or not the person will be able to do all aspects of the job as an overseer rather than as an underling.

Houston Astros

Jeff Luhnow is not only getting a pass for the horrific Astros club he’s put together—that is on a level with an expansion team—but for the Cardinals fertile farm system that is continually producing players. The draft is a communal effort and not one person deserves or should receive all of the credit in the same manner that a GM shouldn’t get the blame if drafts go poorly. Luhnow didn’t work his way up in baseball and was a private businessman when Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt hired him. This infuriated the old-school people in the Cardinals organization namely Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan and created factions between the stat people and the scouting people that eventually resulted in Jocketty’s firing. Luhnow also lost the power struggle to LaRussa in the months prior to leaving the Cardinals to take over the Astros. If nothing else, it was the experience in trying to transition into a baseball front office that has shaped Luhnow’s building of his Astros staff and construction of the roster from the top down as he’s got people who are going to do things in the stat-based way and are told before they’re hired how it’s going to be or they’re not going to get the job.

Of course the portrayal of Luhnow as the newest/latest “genius” and musings as to when (not if) he’ll be the subject of the new Moneyball are absurd. In four years he could be in the same position as Zduriencik or he could be Andrew Friedman. Know this: Astros owner Jim Crane is not going to accept failure and if the Luhnow project doesn’t work all the trust and belief that Crane has put into the Luhnow experiment will be quickly forgotten if the team doesn’t show concrete results on the field.

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SI’s Tom Verducci Grades Free Agents A Month Into The Semester

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Of course one month is more than enough time to determine whether or not a free agent is a bust or a boom. So it goes with Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci Effect” of twisted pitching studies designed to prove the out of context and unprovable) having the audacity in Sports Illustrated to grade players who signed this past winter based on their production over the first month with their new teams.

Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s also out of context.

He talks about expectations with players like Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton and that Edwin Jackson has been “horrible” for the Cubs. Then there are references to big signings of the past by teams like the Yankees getting CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season.

Yes, Greinke’s hurt. But his injury wasn’t one in which the Dodgers made a mistake by signing a pitcher who quickly tore an elbow ligament—he got run into by a 6’2” 240 pound truck named Carlos Quentin and broke his collarbone. He gets a grade of “C” because he got hurt?

Then we get to the “expectations.” Because teams either misjudged what they were getting by failing to look at the production of the players such as Upton or airdropped a mentally and physically fragile person like Hamilton into the dysfunction trumping all current MLB dysfunctions with the Angels doesn’t call into question the entire process of free agency. Sabathia is “declining?” Where? Teixeira is hurt and has still hit the ball out of the park and played Gold Glove defense when he’s played. The Yankees signed Burnett and got Burnett. They bought a flawed pitcher, they got a flawed pitcher. This is the most prevalent aspect of free agency: teams don’t accept what they’re getting and think they’ll unlock a player’s talent simply by having him put on their uniform. It’s not the money. It’s the misplaced beliefs.

In general, there’s a reason a player doesn’t live up to expectations when signing a big free agent deal. The Braves purchased a player in Upton who had a slash line of .246/.298/.454 in 2012. In 2011 it was .243/.331/.429. In 2010 it was .237/.322/.424. This is also a player who was repeatedly benched and called out by teammates on the Rays for lack of hustle. What’s wrong with B.J. Upton? Nothing apart from that fact that he’s B.J. Upton.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Upton will start hitting to achieve the numbers he did in the last three years, hit his 18-20 homers, steal a few bases and play good defense in center field. This is what they bought. Now they’re disappointed because he didn’t turn into Rickey Henderson?

Verducci references players as “lemons” like they’re a bunch of used cars because clubs are taking the principle of supply and demand to its logical extreme by paying for a 1998 Honda as if it’s a 2013 Lamborghini. If a club does that, who’s at fault? Is that a “lemon” or a dumb decision on the part of the team that purchased it? The sign says “as is.”

Reading the article, you start to see through the SI scheme of garnering webhits by the linking in the middle of Verducci’s article to a piece “studying” teams over the past decade that “won” the previous winter and how they fared the next season; in the middle of that piece, another linking goes to that bastion of incredibility Joe Sheehan (he of the belief from 2004 that the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in the 2001 draft over Joe Mauer and projected Mauer’s future production to Mike Sweeney’s) looking at the “myth of winning the winter.” It’s only a myth because the media constantly harps on crowning a winner in the winter since they don’t have the imagination to write about anything else in the off-season. As for the judgment of players a month into the season, there are other things to write about. What’s the excuse this time?

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Bashing and Smashing the Real Underachievers—American League

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

Yesterday I asked why the Mets were being hammered for playing pretty much the way anyone and everyone should’ve expected them to play. Today let’s have a look at some teams that were—according to the “experts,” payrolls and talent levels—were supposed to be performing better and why they aren’t.

Toronto Blue Jays

It’s becoming apparent that the Blue Jays are not a team off to a bad start. They might just be plain bad. In addition to that, one of the main culprits in their mediocrity/badness over the past two seasons—former manager John Farrell—has the Red Sox in first place with the best record in baseball. I don’t think he’s a good game manager, but the reality doesn’t lie. The Red Sox will fall to earth at some point, but will the Blue Jays rise?

They may not be making the same baserunning gaffes they did under Farrell, but they’re third in the American League in homers and twelfth in runs scored. They’re last in batting average, next-to-last in on-base percentage, and thirteenth in ERA. The bullpen has been solid, but if a team doesn’t hit and doesn’t get any starting pitching their roster is irrelevant whether it has Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Jose Bautista or whatever refuse the Mets are shuttling in and out of their outfield.

There’s too much talent with too long a history for this type of underperformance to continue for the whole season, but if it does it may be time to stop looking at the players, coaches and manager and turn the blame to the front office.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

What I find funny is that one of the main arguments for Mike Trout’s 2012 MVP candidacy apart from his higher WAR over Miguel Cabrera was that the Angels took off after he was recalled. Without him to start the season they were 6-14; with him in the lineup after his recall they were 81-58. Trout’s been there from the beginning of the 2013 season and the Angels are 10-17, looking haphazard, disconnected and awful. The only “war” being mentioned is the undeclared, but known, “war” between the front office and the manager.

They’re not a cohesive unit and when you have a bunch of mercenaries, some of those mercenaries had better be able to pitch.

Yesterday’s win over the Athletics was indicative of one of the Angels’ biggest problems: veteran apathy. In the eighth inning, an important insurance run would’ve scored had Mark Trumbo touched the plate before Josh Hamilton was thrown out at third base to end the inning. Mike Scioscia’s teams were known for the inside game, pitching, defense, speed and going all out. Those small fundamental mistakes didn’t cost them games because they didn’t happen. Now they do. And they’re 10-17 and going nowhere in large part because of that. They got away with it yesterday, but just barely. It certainly doesn’t help that their pitching is woeful, but their issues stem from more than just bad pitching.

Why don’t the Angels just put the man out of his misery? He’s been there for 14 years, it’s no longer his team, his sway in the organization is all but gone and the players aren’t responding to him. It’s like delaying the decision to put down a beloved pet. Another week isn’t going to make a difference other than to make things worse. Sometimes making a change for its own sake is good.

Tony LaRussa’s says he’s not interested in managing. He might be interested but for one thing: his relationship with Jim Leyland is such that he won’t want to compete with his friend in the same league and possibly ruin Leyland’s last shot at a title so LaRussa could stroke his own ego, make another big payday, derive some joy over abusing Jeff Luhnow and the Astros and being the center of attention again. It’s Ivory Soap Pure (99 44/100%) that you can forget LaRussa.

Phil Garner took over an Astros team that was floundering in 2004 and brought them to the playoffs; the next season, they were 15 games under .500 in late May of 2005 and rebounded to make the World Series. Even Bob Brenly, who was a figurehead as Diamondbacks manager and whose main attribute was that he wasn’t Buck Showalter and didn’t tell the players how to wear their socks, would restore a calming, “it’s different” atmosphere.

Someone, somewhere would yield a better result that Scioscia is now. It’s known and not accepted yet. Maybe after a few more losses, it will be accepted that it’s enough so they can move on.

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Beane and Zduriencik: Mirror Images

Ballparks, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Who would play Jack Zduriencik in the movie version of the Mariners rise if it were to occur and one were to be made? I’m thinking Paul Giamatti with glasses and a shaved head. Right now, though, it won’t matter unless they choose to make Moneyball 2 and have Zduriencik as a character in a supporting role. If they really decided to make an accurate version of Moneyball 2, it would center on the amount of luck that Billy Beane had in becoming the worldwide phenomenon he did and why the opposite end of the spectrum is exemplified by Zduriencik and what’s happened with the Mariners.

Zduriencik is running out of time. In his fifth year on the job, the Mariners may have a better farm system than the one he inherited; they might be cheaper; but they’re still losing and he’s in the last year of his contract. An 8-15 record is bad enough, but when the record is accompanied by losing 2 of 3 to the historically horrific Astros; by the offensive players they acquired to improve their run totals failing to produce; and by their home attendance hovering between 10,000 and 15,000 per game, it’s not hard to see what’s coming next: a new regime to enliven the fan base. If a change is made, I could easily see a Pat Gillick return as a short-term solution for two years with Mike Arbuckle as his heir apparent.

When this is going to happen depends on how antsy Chuck Armstrong gets and whether ownership tells him something needs to be done to make it look like they’re doing something. The Mariners are better than this, but unless it shows on the field, that won’t matter. The downfall for Zduriencik that has him heading toward being fired stems not from the Mariners’ poor record and dwindling attendance, but that the expectations were driven upward due to his status as a scout who was also willing to use the new metrics. This led to the hapless columnists like Joel Sherman to refer to him as a “truly Amazin’ exec” in an attempt to bash the Mets while simultaneously bolstering his skewed and ignorant view of how a team “should” be run. Zduriencik’s potential for success was made worse by the Mariners’ leap from 101 losses in 2008 to 85 wins in 2009. That it was a byproduct of luck didn’t matter when penning the narrative. He won, therefore he is a “genius.” It was puffery to further a stat-based “revolution” that created the legend of Jack Z and it’s the reality that it’s not so simple to find players based on sabermetrics that will bring him down. Sometimes the numbers don’t result in players performing.

This relates to Beane in the following way: Beane’s “genius” was crafted by a clever and crafted storyline, Moneyball, that eventually wound up being a movie of the same name starring one of the most bankable stars in the world, Brad Pitt. That the book was twisted and the movie was ludicrous doesn’t make a difference to the lay-fan who believed every word and screen movement as if it were coming from the mouth of God himself and if Michael Lewis is that God, I’ll pull a maneuver straight out of Paradise Lost.

Ironically, when the movie was released, the A’s were tumbling and spiraling like a wounded bird. At that time the only people still clinging to the “Beane as genius” narrative were those who had something invested in it still being seen as accurate. Beane has taken the portrayal and adapted it to the front he puts up. He’s an actor in a show. When his stock was down, he became the passive, “aw shucks,” everyman who did little more than take advantage of market inefficiencies and happened to be the subject of a best-selling book that he didn’t have anything to do with other than allowing Lewis access. It was rife with significant dramatic license, but Beane still took full advantage of his newfound fame. While the team lost, no one wanted to hear it from him other than the aforementioned Beane-zealots. Then when the team started winning again, out came the blustery, Type-A personality to shove it in the faces of those who doubted him and his fickle “fans” reappeared. He’s out there again and is the go-to guy for quotes and validation on subjects aplenty, and they don’t just have to do with baseball.

Beane’s reputation was gone by mid-season 2013. He wanted to go to the Cubs after the 2011 season, but the Cubs preferred Theo Epstein over him. He was with the A’s and stuck with the A’s. Beane and the franchise were like a longtime married couple maintaining the pretense for mutual benefit, to save face, and because there was nowhere else to go. They’d settled into a comfortable, mundane day-to-day existence hoping to win the lottery with their young players and cheap free agent signings. Then, like a family in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy and divorce, they inexplicably did hit the lottery.

How else do you explain Brandon Moss? Beane saw it coming with the failed-with-four-franchises journeyman Moss? Then why was he in the minors for the first half of the season while the A’s messed around with Daric Barton and Kila Ka’aihue? Was he saving Moss as a secret weapon?

Of course not.

It was luck.

The young players they acquired in gutting trades from the previos winter—Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Josh Reddick—all developed and contribued at once.

Luck.

They came back from 9 games under .500 on June 10th and 13 games out of first place on June 30th to win the division.

Luck.

They were talented, but they took advantage of a Rangers team that had grown complacent and whose main star, Josh Hamilton, was in the midst of a dreadful slump in which he looked like he didn’t want to play.

And they were lucky.

The public doesn’t want to hear the details of how a baby’s made or about genetic good fortune to make said baby into a handsome 6’4” star athlete and number one draft pick like Beane or the same genetics that made Zduriencik a 5’11” infielder who never got above A ball, hit .140 in a brief minor league career, and grew pudgy as he aged. The public just wants to see the baby. With Beane, he’s had an endless stream of good fortune to maintain this veneer; with Zduriencik, he hasn’t been so fortunate. That’s what it comes down to.

The flickering memories of the days of Zduriencik as the next “great” GM are dimming as rapidly as the desperate leaping from the caravan those who created the myth. Now the same people who called Zduriencik the new breed of GM, spending his formative years in scouting and eventually educated in stats, are calling for his dismissal.

If the Mariners start hitting and the back of their rotation pitches better, they’ll play better. If they don’t, they won’t and Zdruiencik is likely to be out of a job at the end of the season or sooner.

It’s better to be lucky when one is closer to the end than at the beginning because if it’s at the beginning, it will be expected; if it’s at the end, it was just luck. And you might save your job.

The A’s sudden rise in 2012 might buy Zduriencik some time as an example of what can happen if a little patience is exhibited, but given the way his tenure has mirrored Beane’s, the luck won’t be present in Seattle and unless they make a drastic turnaround, nor will Zduriencik for much longer.

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Los Angeles Angels: 2013 Book Excerpt

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

The Los Angels Angels have gotten off to a horrific start. Their season, so far, has only been salvaged from an ever worse status by winning two of three against the woeful Astros. They were lucky to win those. What follows is an excerpt of my recently published book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide regarding one of the biggest problems the Angels have: a lack of continuity between manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto.

I’m not going to say that everything in the book is as eerily accurate as this, but at the very least, it’s not a computer generated spitting out of numbers masking its creator with a façade of false expertise; nor is it randomness based on regurgitated stuff I heard elsewhere and pushed on the reader with an underlying and poorly hidden agenda. To be brutally honest, most of the stuff you see from bloggers, self-proclaimed “experts,” and the mainstream media is trash because they don’t know anything and are desperately trying to hide that fact through degrees, supposed credentials, obnoxious pomposity, and formulas that perhaps five people in the world truly understand.

My book has predictions, projections, fantasy picks and breakout candidates based on logic, reason and assessment. There are also players vital statistics and contract status for every key member of the organization. The full season predicted standings can be found here.

What follows is the assessments section on the Angels GM and manager and the pre-season prediction that was written well before the start of the season.

Jerry Dipoto—General Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2014 with club options for 2015 and 2016

When Dipoto took the job, it’s doubtful that he had it in mind that he would: A) be a checkbook GM; and B) would be usurping the longtime manager and most powerful voice in the organization as to the construction of the roster, Mike Scioscia.

Dipoto paid his dues as a baseball executive working in the front offices for the Red Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks before serving as the interim GM in 2010 when Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes was fired and then moved back into an assistant role when Kevin Towers was hired as the permanent replacement. It was Dipoto’s trades of Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson at mid-season that played a large role in the Diamondbacks’ 2011 division title. Towers got the credit for the meal, but Dipoto brought in some of the ingredients and set the table.

The Angels were a disappointment in 2012 and it’s hard to know how much blame has to go to the GM. Did he want to sign Albert Pujols to that contract? Did he want to put a team that was so diametrically opposed to what the Angels have been and was ill-suited to the strategies and desires of the manager? Did he want the manager to begin with?

With everything the Angels have done since firing Tony Reagins as GM, there’s been a sense of collecting names that can’t be criticized from the outside, but don’t work as a cohesive unit when put into practice. The Angels never pursued the Pujols-type of player. In years past, they targeted what they wanted and made a quick strike to get them. There was a positive atmosphere and it was widely known that Scioscia was in command, the players were treated well, everything was kept in-house, and they won.

That’s gone. Pujols’s acquisition changed the template and it fits neither Dipoto or Scioscia. They’re still working together not as two men on the same page but as if Moreno told them that they’re two smart baseball men and they need to work it out.

Those things rarely get worked out.

This past winter it continued. Did Dipoto want to sign Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million contract, take him out of his comfort zone in Texas and put him in California with the requisite pressure and underlying dysfunction that hasn’t been repaired?

There’s a legitimate question as to who’s in charge with the Angels. In the days of Bill Stoneman as GM and Scioscia as manager, they worked hand-in-hand and all were on the same page. Now it appears as if the stat savvy Dipoto, who was brought up as an executive in situations where money was either secondary or tight, has become the type of GM who is a figurehead and spending money because the owner is telling him to spend money. His other acquisitions—Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson—are not slam dunks; nor are they the types of pitchers the Angels have historically pursued.

Is Dipoto in charge? Is this the kind of team he envisioned putting together when he got his opportunity to be a GM? It doesn’t look like it.

Mike Scioscia—Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2018

Scioscia, in the waning days of the 2012 season, had a look on his face like he wanted to be fired. It’s not easy for a man who was in such unwavering command to have his authority stripped from him and parceled to a GM he doesn’t know and thinks differently as to the most effective way to manage a game. That power also shifted to the owner who once treated Scioscia with pure trust and is now having a significant say in the construction of the club not based on what the manager wants and thinks he can win with, but what has sparked a showbiz atmosphere and a TV contract trumping winning.

These are not things that interested the pitching/bullpen/speed/defense/inside game-preferring manager.

Scioscia was unhappy when his longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. The blame for that fell to Pujols. As respected a teammate Pujols is said to be and as much as former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa worships him, I have to wonder how much of LaRussa’s crediting Pujols for his leadership abilities was a placating of the player and the golden rule (whoever has the gold makes the rules). It behooves  the manager of a megastar player to get that player on his side, but that was never a part of Scioscia’s job description. His old-school sensibilities went back to the days before guaranteed long-term contracts and players having the ability to dictate who the coaches are. In Scioscia’s world it’s, “I’m the manager. That’s why.” And Pujols is a player who can resist that style of dictatorship.

The 2012 team was not a Scioscia-style team. They still played good defense, stole bases and bunted, but the tenor was different. The all-for-one dynamic was gone and this is the risk taken when buying mercenaries who don’t fit in to what the manager wants to do.

Scioscia is signed through 2018, but his time with the Angels is coming to a close. It would be better for all parties to split and move on. Dipoto would be free to bring in a manager he prefers (if he’s allowed to), and Scioscia can get another job elsewhere in a situation that more fits his style.

PREDICTION

This season has disaster written all over it. The Angels have abandoned the dignified template they adhered to for so long and chose to take the tack of purchasing mercenaries thinking that the ends—a huge TV contract; the extra Wild Card; buzz—would justify the means. They’ve lost the plot and shunned the reason why the Angels were a consideration for every free agent not because they paid the most or because they won. That was, in part, important, but the Angels organization was respected because the problems were kept in-house and there was uncommon stability in the front office and field staff.

That’s gone.

The second they signed Pujols, that ended. Pujols is not a prototypical troublemaking diva, but if he’s unhappy, he has a way of letting everyone know it. The first salvo against Scioscia to indicate who was really running things now was the hiring of Dipoto. Pujols’s displeasure with Hatcher and the hitting coach’s firing was the second. As the 2012 season moved along, there was speculation that Scioscia would be out as manager because he wanted out and Dipoto wanted him out. It didn’t happen and it was another mistake in a litany of them. The two don’t believe the same things when it comes to strategy and the manager who liked to push the envelope offensively with speed and inside baseball now has no choice but to sit back and wait for the home run. The manager who wanted pitchers who gutted their way through games and gave innings and high pitch counts regardless of what a few bad innings did to their ERAs has been compromised with the injury-prone and pending free agents. The bullpen is not good.

This is not a Scioscia team, but he’s still managing it because they wouldn’t fire him and he didn’t resign.

That problem will be rectified—for him anyway—when he’s fired by May. He’ll take some time off, relax and wait for another job opening. Perhaps he’ll write a book about what went wrong. Pujols will lobby for Tony LaRussa and perhaps his former manager, bored in retirement, will be willing to come back on a short-term deal to save the day. But this team is not good enough for LaRussa to save the day even if he does choose to jump in, take Moreno’s money over the objections of the GM and try to steer the ship in the right direction. LaRussa is the same kind of manager as Sciosica only he’ll have the benefit of the tag, “Pujols Approved” on the inside of his jersey.

Hamilton was a mistake. The pitching is shaky from top-to-bottom. They’re overpaid and don’t appear to like each other very much.

These are not the Angels of a decade ago and this will go down as the latest example of collecting stars and expecting them to join together in harmony just because they’re stars.

It won’t work.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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Rangers Fans’ Anger At Hamilton Is Misplaced

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Stats

What was Josh Hamilton supposed to do?

Put yourself in his position and say your contract with the company you worked for had expired and because of personal problems in the recent past and on-field questions, they decided to limit their offer to keep you to far below what you would be worth based on performance and what you felt you could get on the open market. Then a close competitor offers you a deal that dwarfs what your former company was prepared to offer and you accept it knowing that you weren’t going to do better in your former home or anywhere else.

Then imagine having to return to the town you once worked in with your family in tow and not only do you hear taunts about the past personal problems, but your family and young children are subjected to foul mouthed attacks based on a betrayal that wasn’t a betrayal at all. Even if it was, there’s no reason for your family to bear the brunt of the vitriol.

Hamilton returned to Texas to play a series against the Rangers this weekend with his new “company” the Los Angeles Angels. His wife Katie was in the stands with their children and had to call security because nearby fans were getting “ugly” with their comments. Katie Hamilton made some comments of her own when her husband signed with the Angels to the tune of the Rangers let him “date” other people and therefore shouldn’t have been surprised that he left. Katie Hamilton was right. In retrospect, the Rangers are probably relieved that they didn’t have to pay Hamilton $100+ million and wonder whether he was going to start drinking and/or using drugs again. Add in that he’s injury prone and appeared distracted for extended periods in 2012, and it’s not as terrible an on-field loss as is being implied.

The fans feel as if Hamilton defected. Did he defect or did he take an offer from the Angels when he knew that the Rangers were ambivalent about him coming back and weren’t going to come close to matching the offer? And should the fans be offended to the point that they needed to abuse his wife?

It was a business decision and Hamilton had no choice but to take the deal. It wasn’t personal and it wasn’t a shot against Texas or their fans, but it only takes a groundswell of rhetoric to make it seem that way and for the brainless and probably somewhat beered up fans to try and get a rise out of the athlete by attacking him and his family.

Fanbases wonder why there’s no loyalty between the players and their organizations; the media laments the money-hungry athlete; there’s shock as to why players don’t choose to take less money than they can get on the open market to stay in a prior locale; why there’s the perception of being mercenaries and chasing every last dollar. In the end Hamilton didn’t do anything that you or I wouldn’t do and making it necessary for his wife to call security to ward off “fans” who were making inappropriate comments in front of her children certainly isn’t going to make the Hamiltons regret their decision to leave Texas.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Yankees Get Vernon Wells…For A.J. Burnett

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After all the ridicule the Yankees are receiving for trading for Vernon Wells and agreeing to even pay $13.9 million of the $42 million remaining on his contract, did they get better or was this a move of pure desperation in the George Steinbrenner tradition to get a name he happened to recognize and isn’t any good anymore?

Let’s look at the various parts of the deal.

For Wells

Wells is an easy man to please. It was only two-plus years ago that Wells referred to Anaheim in the following way at his introductory press conference upon joining the Angels:

“This is paradise. This is one of the best places to play in baseball.”

Now with the Yankees, Wells said:

“This is baseball, this is the center of it all. There’s no other place like it. This is a fun way for things to go toward the end of my career.”

The Yankees are putting a lot of stock in his hot spring training in which he hit 4 homers and had a .361 batting average, but he walked twice in 41 plate appearances continuing the trend of recent years. In spring training, when pitchers are building arm strength and trying to get their own timing and mechanics down, it’s senseless to put any stock in how a veteran who’s fighting for a starting job hits. Wells was the odd man out in Anaheim in an outfield of Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton with Mark Trumbo as the DH. He wasn’t going to play and if the Angels didn’t find a taker to absorb at least some of his salary, eventually, they would’ve cut ties and paid him to leave. As it is, they were so desperate to get rid of him, that they paid $28.1 million to get him off the team and acquire two players—Exicardo Cayones and lefty pitcher Kramer Sneed—with difficult to spell and/or unusual names.

Cayones was acquired from the Pirates for A.J. Burnett a year ago, so considering the money the Yankees paid to get rid of Burnett ($19.5 million), they basically just traded Burnett for Wells and paid $33.4 million to do it. All this talk about the Yankees paying “nothing” for Wells is just that—talk. And it’s nonsense.

Objectively, on the field Wells can hit a few home runs and is a good defensive outfielder who can play center field if needed. Wells was once a .900 OPS player with home run power, speed, great defense, and he didn’t strike out. He’s not that anymore. It says more about the Yankees than it does about Wells that he’s an upgrade over what they had a few days ago. If you look at Wells’s home run logs from the past, especially 2011-2012, you’ll see that he hits bad pitching. This is the hallmark of a declining player who guesses and sometimes guesses right. He doesn’t have any clue of the strike zone and hacks at the first pitch that looks tasty. Sometimes it happens to go out of the park.

For the Yankees

In addition to Wells, the Yankees signed Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract after the Red Sox released him. If the Yankees are basing the singing of Wells on his spring training numbers, for what purpose are they signing Overbay, who batted .220 this spring? The last time Overbay was a productive everyday player was in 2009. Combine that with Wells last having been productive in 2010 and you get the feeling that the money being saved on players is being invested into the construction of a time machine. In fact, the 2013 Yankees roster would win 135 games…in 2006. The problem is it’s not 2006 and no longer can players take certain little pills and potions to make them feel and play like it’s seven years earlier.

Most tellingly, it’s finally beginning to sink in with Yankees fans and media apologists that they really are following through with the plan to get below $189 million in total salary by 2014. What we’re hearing now, en masse, is about the 2014-2015 free agency class and how much money they’re going to spend to get back to the the “real” Yankees, whatever that is; we’re also hearing about their young prospects on the way. Hopefully for them, they’ll be better than the non-prospects they haven’t developed or traded away over the past decade.

Are they better now with Wells and Overbay than they were a week ago? Sadly, for the Yankees fan who expects a Hall of Famer at every position, yes, but Wells and Overbay are not Hall of Famers. They’d have to pay to get in just like everyone else.

The reality

You can go on an on about the injuries that were unforeseeable with Mark Teixeira’s wrist and Curtis Granderson’s broken forearm; about Derek Jeter returning from surgery and his “heart” and “courage” pushing him forward; about Wells and Overbay being stopgaps until the varsity is ready, but no sane fan or media person can justify the Yankees having so cheap and shallow a bench considering the age and injuries on this team; no one can say that they couldn’t have accounted for this possibility and that they’d be seeking the dregs of the dispatched because they don’t have any high level minor leaguers who can step in for a month—a month—that they had to go and get Wells and Overbay.

The Yankees’ spring training has been eerily similar to the opening of Tropic Thunder and if truth imitates art, the season goes downhill from here at the speed of plummet. Don’t blink or you might miss the crash.

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