Mike Morse, the Mariners and Jack Z

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Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was roundly roasted when he made the three-way trade with the Athletics and Nationals to acquire Mike Morse. The trade to get Morse was considered about as bad as the trade Zduriencik made at mid-season in his first year at the helm that sent Morse to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans. In truth, the reacquisition was an understandable deal.

The Mariners sent John Jaso to the Athletics and the Athletics sent young pitchers A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and Ian Krol to the Nats. This was a trade that made sense to all sides. Despite the stat guy lust for Jaso that would make one think the A’s were getting Johnny Bench, he’s a mediocre defensive catcher who has some pop and gets on base. The Mariners were intent on taking a long look at Jesus Montero, had Mike Zunino on the way and signed veteran Kelly Shoppach. They needed a power bat more than they needed Jaso and thought they were getting one in Morse. Morse had hit 31 homers two years ago and appeared to have figured out how to use his massive size effectively. He hit eight homers in April, three in May and then spent a month on the disabled list from early-June to late July with a strained quadriceps.

If the Mariners were expecting a mid-lineup basher when they acquired Morse, they made a significant mistake in judgment. Morse has tremendous power, but he’s vulnerable to power pitchers and has trouble laying off the high fastball and low breaking stuff. He’ll hit mediocre-to-bad pitching and average fastballers.

With the Orioles, he’ll probably have better success playing in a smaller ballpark. For the Mariners, it was a calculated risk considering what they were giving up and the chance that Morse would be motivated to repeat his 2011 season in his free agent year in 2013. The end result of trading Jaso is that the Mariners wound up with a speedy fifth outfielder in Xavier Avery. The Rays are widely regarded as the smartest organization in baseball and when they traded Jaso to the Mariners, all they received was Josh Lueke with his character issues and 7.50 ERA as a Ray. The difference is they made a worse trade than the Mariners did and were shielded from criticism due to their perception.

If anyone got the best of this deal, it’s the Nationals. Morse was worth a gamble for the Mariners and it didn’t work out.




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The Rejected Justin Upton Trade: Q&A

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The general reaction to the proposed Justin Upton trade from the Diamondbacks to the Mariners has been, “Why?”

Why would the Diamondbacks and GM Kevin Towers bother negotiating and completing the deal pending Upton’s approval while knowing that approval wasn’t going to come?

Why would the Mariners make such a deal while surrendering four players—Charlie Furbush, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor and Taijuan Walker—when the general consensus is that they need more than Upton to compete in a tough division?

Let’s discuss the answers.

Why did Towers bother?

Towers has no choice now. He has to get Upton out of there. He’s put himself in this position and there are lingering questions as to why there’s such a desperation to get rid of a 25-year-old, power hitting right fielder who’s signed to a reasonable contract. Usually in such a case there’s an obvious reason such as open animosity between player and club, money, poor performance or a rebuilding process. None of this is evident with Upton and the Diamondbacks. This is going to permeate the dealmaking process and clubs interested in Upton who may not have heard whispers (if they exist) of the real reason Upton’s available will hesitate and want an answer before they surrender a package similar to the Mariners.

The Mariners offer is important. Furbush is a useful lefty specialist, but the other players are significant. Pryor is a potential closer; Walker has a great power arm; Franklin is a former first round pick as a middle infielder with pop.

Towers was reportedly aware that Upton wasn’t going to okay the deal and perhaps he was hoping that the wearing down of the trade rumors that have gone on for over a year might spur Upton to say, “Let me outta here already.” But it was also a message to the rest of baseball that the cost for Upton is going to be steep for a deal to get done.

It makes sense in a way, but it might have backfired for Towers as the desire to trade Upton has now become a need. The difference between “I will” and “I must” is stark and the Diamondbacks have almost completely crossed that threshold. By that logic, they’re going to wind up with far less for Upton than what they were getting from the Mariners.

How did this help the Mariners?

On the surface, it’s a logical progression to use their farm system to acquire a superstar talent they’ll have at a reasonable cost for the next three years, but the Mariners knew that Upton would reject the trade just like the Diamondbacks did. But they tried anyway. Why?

Here’s why: Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is in the final year of his contract. A surprising (and lucky) 85 wins in what was supposed to be year one of a rebuild in 2009 has lost its luster. He was referred to as a “genius,” and a new age thinker who used both scouting experience and new age stats to run his club. But disastrous signings such as Chone Figgins and off-field missteps like the allegations of lying in the entirety of his Cliff Lee dealings with the Yankees and subsequently trading for an accused rapist Josh Lueke made Zduriencik appear shady and amoral.

Whether it’s a fair assessment or not is irrelevant. If the on-field product had been better, these issues could be glossed over, but the on-field product has been awful and no one wants to hear about a rebuilt farm system. The Mariners have finished in last place in the AL West in each of the past three seasons and are desperately flinging things at the wall—Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Upton, flirting with Josh Hamilton, bringing in the fences at Safeco Field—and hoping to regain some attention from a fan base that’s stopped coming to the park.

Forgetting the on-field issues, here’s the bottom line: when Pat Gillick and Lou Piniella were running the place, the Mariners were first in attendance in baseball in 2001-2002. The last year when Bill Bavasi was GM in 2008 they lost 100 games and were sixth in attendance. In 2009, when they won those 85 games, they were seventh. In 2010, the year they acquired Lee to couple with Felix Hernandez and the Mariners were a trendy pick to make the playoffs, they were seventh. They were eighth in 2010 and 2011 and eleventh in 2012. It gets worse from there unless major names are acquired. They tried that with Upton and he said no.

With Ichiro Suzuki no longer there as a nominal drawing card, what possible reason other than King Felix is there to go see the games as long as the fans don’t think there’s any chance for them to win in a division with the Rangers, Angels and A’s?

The Upton trade was desperation, pure and simple, because Zduriencik’s job is on the line and if the season goes poorly without legitimate improvement, he’s getting fired. In fact, he might get fired during the season before the beginning of summer.

Was it worth it to the Diamondbacks and Mariners?

It was only worth it if they had convinced Upton to accept the trade before it leaked to the media. They didn’t. Now matters are worse for both. In the end, it was a huge gaffe that will define the organizations until the situations are settled and that settlement may not end as either Towers or Zduriencik envisioned unless they accounted for a worst case scenario that is looking more and more likely with each passing day.

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Zduriencik and the Mariners Are Free From the Shackles of Ichiro

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A window was opened into the reality of the Mariners’ relationship with Ichiro Suzuki when, right before Ichiro wound up being traded to the Yankees, GM Jack Zduriencik stated publicly and somewhat ludicrously that Ichiro was still a franchise player with the unsaid implication that, like it or not, Ichiro was staying with the team beyond his contract’s end at the conclusion of this season. Of course it was over the top, but no one knew that Ichiro had already asked to be traded. Given some of the strange and ethically questionable things Zduriencik has done as GM, there was a very real possibility that he was really going to end up keeping Ichiro beyond his current contract.

Former Mariners’ star Jay Buhner said he would vomit if the Mariners signed Ichiro to a contract extension. Buhner’s planned purge was rendered irrelevant when, in a shocking decision, Ichiro was traded to the Yankees for two moderately warm bodies and the Mariners were finally free of a player who had become an unproductive on-field presence, an off-field albatross, and a spike in the tires of progress to get better. Only people inside the organization know how much pressure from ownership has been exerted on Ichiro’s behalf and sabotaged anything the baseball people wanted to do. Zduriencik hasn’t shown the skills at subtly nudging his bosses in the direction he wants them to go. His reputation was sullied when he somehow managed to give the Yankees the moral high ground in a botched trade that would’ve sent Cliff Lee to the Yankees and backed out of it for what was supposedly a “better” package and got the recently demoted Justin Smoak and simultaneously acquired an accused sex offender Josh Lueke, then was accused of lying as to how much he was told by the Rangers about Lueke’s past. Now, with the way the team has played since Ichiro’s departure, that one deal might have Zduriencik’s job.

It’s absurdly simplistic and a post-trade cheap shot to say that the dumping of one player had this much of an influence on team fortunes especially when they got rid of him just to get rid of him and because he asked out, but players know the difference between someone who’s interested in himself and his own numbers and one who’s doing what he can to help the team win. It’s a fine but easily recognizable line—to a player—when there’s a goal of individualism masquerading as “helping the team” and actually helping the team. Could Ichiro have swung for a few more home runs? Yes. Could he have stolen some bases when it was important rather than to bolster his stolen base percentage? Absolutely. In short, as the team’s fortunes declined and they were in full-scale rebuild, it was known in February and March that the games were going to be meaningless by May and he had nothing to do but build up his Hall of Fame resume.

And that’s what he did.

The diva superstar is tolerated as long as he’s productive and bringing fans into the ballpark. The problem with Ichiro was that he was no longer productive, was making a lot of money, the team was not helped by his presence, and the Mariners are currently 11th in the American League in attendance. Fans will go to watch a loser for so long before finding other activities. They’ll go to the games if the loser is somewhat interesting, but the Mariners weren’t even that anymore. When he was accumulating 240 hits (most of them singles), but was stealing bases, playing great defense and there were power bats hitting behind him to drive him in after his singles, it was fine. But that’s not what the Mariners have been for most of the past decade. What you had was a player who still notched his singles, but no longer did it with the frequency he once did and saw his batting average decline. Since he rarely walks, along with the batting average decline so went his on base percentage. This is not an indictment of Ichiro’s amazing on-field skills, but a legitimate criticism of his application of those skills. He misused his talents in a team sense.

In his final few years as a Mariner, he was essentially useless to them. There’s nothing worse than a fading star who still exerts power over the organization based on what he was. Ichiro’s looming presence had hindered the Mariners for so long that he was entwined with anything the team did or didn’t do. It had gotten to the point where Ichiro was called “great” because he was supposed to be called “great” and if anyone dared imply that he wasn’t a team player or wasn’t as good as his stat compiling suggested, they were chased from the town by a bat-wielding mob. The Mariners are 8-2 since Ichiro was dispatched. That’s more of a function of playing the bad Royals and the mediocre Blue Jays, but wins are wins. There are things for which Zduriencik deserves to be held accountable like the Lueke/Smoak deal and Chone Figgins’s contract, but given the clear interference from ownership with Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr., perhaps he deserves one more winter and at least half of 2013 to try and get it right without Ichiro and Ichiro’s reputation and relationship with ownership standing in the way.

Ichiro was harming the team’s attempts to get better, but his request for a trade may have saved the GMs job, for awhile at least. What Zduriencik does with the freedom from the shackles of Ichiro will determine his long-term prospects for staying and winning in Seattle, but at least there’s not that shadow hovering over the franchise as he tries to do it.

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Trade Felix Hernandez!

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At least that’s what Ken Rosenthal suggests in his latest posting on Fox Sports.

On the surface, it makes sense.

In that same vein, while it was self-serving, Yankee-centric and gutsy-when-it’s-not-his-neck-on-the-line, the proposed trades of Cliff Lee and Carlos Gonzalez from Joel Sherman (that I discussed in my prior posting) weren’t pure idiocy in theory—someone other than Sherman could make a coherent case for them if they weren’t wearing their Yankees footed pajamas while writing it anyway. They’re not going to happen and Sherman, in spite of his puffed out chest of what “he’d” do if he were a GM, wouldn’t have the nerve nor the intelligence to run a team, let alone run it correctly with the fearlessness he openly says he’d have.

But if a team was operating in a vacuum and if there weren’t other concerns like fan reaction; attendance; media response; and player perception, the Mariners would be better-served in the long-run to trade Felix Hernandez for 4 prospects including a big league-ready, blue chip bat.

The inherent problem being that a team isn’t run in a vacuum and the Mariners have been self-destructively cognizant of outside forces.

GM Jack Zduriencik has made some mistakes in his tenure; his reputation took a beating when the Yankees accused him of reneging on an agreed-upon trade for Lee in the summer of 2010; and he was clearly dishonest in his recollection of the circumstances surrounding the Mariners’ acquisition of the accused sex offender Josh Lueke from the Rangers. But he’s not to blame for Ichiro Suzuki still being on the club. He wasn’t at fault for the ignominious career closure of Ken Griffey Jr. And I’m starting to believe that the decried and silly re-acquisition of Russell Branyan in 2010 was more a byproduct of upper management telling him to “do something and I don’t care what it is” than an actual baseball maneuver.

I’m sure that Zduriencik would consider dealing Hernandez; that Hernandez would welcome a trade to a contender. It takes a toll on a great pitcher to constantly have to pitch shutouts to have a prayer of winning a few games. Hernandez’s record in 2012 is 4-5; in 2010-2011 he went 27-26. He won the Cy Young Award in 2010 with a 13-12 record when, if he were with a good team and pitched similarly, he would’ve won 25 games.

This season he should have around 8-9 victories.

As much as stat people try to diminish the importance of wins in the grand scheme, it matters to players to have a gaudy record. For every Brandon McCarthy who understands and tries to implement advanced stats, there will 10 players who think like Jeff Francoeur and say that on base percentage isn’t important because it’s not up on the scoreboard when hitters come up to the plate.

If available Hernandez would set off a feeding frenzy that would make a school of sharks stop and stare with stricken awe. He’s got a limited no-trade clause (10 teams) and is signed through 2014 with $18.5 million in 2012; $19.5 million in 2013; and $20 million in 2014. He’d want an extension if the Mariners try to trade him to a team on his no-trade list, but what would the Yankees give up for him? The Mets? The Dodgers? The Red Sox?

The Phillies’ problem with Cole Hamels’s pending free agency would be solved right there and then. Get Hernandez for the rest of this season and beyond; let Hamels walk.

Any team would want Felix Hernandez and the Mariners could get a ton for him.

But many times players’ desires and team on-field needs are far down on the list as to whether a trade is considered and consummated.

By those parameters and that the Mariners will lose one of their longtime gate attractions in Ichiro after this season makes it a practical impossibility that they trade Hernandez.

The only variable is if Hernandez asks for it. That would change the landscape just as Roy Halladay‘s trade request did for the Blue Jays. If it happens, it won’t be until the winter. It’s not a mid-season deal and the Mariners would need to start a press blitz to explain that it was Hernandez’s decision and not theirs.

It’s not just about baseball. It’s about PR as well.

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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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Josh Lueke and the No-Tolerance Policy

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

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

They’ll be okay behind the plate without Jaso.

But will they be okay with Lueke?

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

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

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

I don’t blame them.

I wouldn’t touch Jose Lueke.

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

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

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

It’s not unreasonable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zduriencik Deserves At Least One More Year

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

The Mariners agreed to a contract extension (of the multi-year variety according to MLB Trade Rumors) with GM Jack Zduriencik.

We can debate how good or bad a job Zduriencik has done; he’s done some smart things and some stupid things along with things that may have made sense but didn’t work.

It’s fair that he gets more time.

I said before the season that if the Mariners had another series of off-field incidents and evidence of front office anarchy, Zduriencik had to go. That hasn’t happened.

On the field, they played over their heads for the first half of the season before the wheels came off due to a pitching staff that could no longer counteract an atrocious offense. They need to see what they have with full 2012 seasons from Dustin Ackley and Carlos Peguero along with continued improvement from Michael Pineda and excellence from Felix Hernandez.

He has to upgrade the offense somehow.

What I find interesting about the linked piece is that there are no details as to why some of Zduriencik’s moves were “memorable”.

The deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers was more notable for his double-dealing on the Yankees and that he acquired an accused sex offender, Josh Lueke, which led to major fallout and contretemps from both the Mariners and Rangers.

The Brandon Morrow for Brandon League looks better now that League has been closing and made the All Star team, but that was more than a baseball move; it was done for Morrow’s own good and he’s still got a ways to go in fulfilling his potential with the Blue Jays; no matter what happens, Zduriencik can’t be faulted for it even if Morrow becomes a superstar.

Zduriencik’s plan has been partially sabotaged by the foolish anointing of “genius” based on partisanship and idiocy; that the Mariners drastically overachieved in his first season; and ownership has interfered in decisions that the GM surely would not have made (bringing Ken Griffey Jr. back in 2010 for example).

Let’s see if they let him do what he’d undoubtedly prefer to do and let Ichiro Suzuki walk after 2012 (or even try to trade him this winter); that will be a clearer window into whether he’s going to be allowed to do his job the way he wants to do it.

If they don’t, this extension makes little sense.

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Let Zduriencik Run The Mariners And Get Rid Of Ichiro

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

I’ve been a critic of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

Actually, I’ve been more of a voice of reason about him.

While he was continually being referred to as a “genius”, I tried to provide pause to that silly appellation. He’s not a genius; he’s not a moron. He’s a baseball GM who’s made some good moves (drafting Dustin Ackley); some bad moves (Chone Figgins); some morally repugnant decisions (Josh Lueke; firing/blaming Don Wakamatsu); some of questionable tactics (the sleight-of-hand machinations in trading Cliff Lee); and some that made sense but didn’t work (Milton Bradley).

But in this Geoff Baker piece concerning the future of Ichiro Suzuki, it’s clear that Zduriencik has to at least try to set a boundary as to what’s good for the organization on the field.

As Baker points out, the idea that Ichiro should be placed in the same category as Derek Jeter was with the Yankees is nonsense. But I’d go a step further than Baker—the Mariners not only shouldn’t extend Ichiro, but they should see if they can trade him this winter.

Never mind the difficulty in finding a taker for Ichiro and his contract ($17 million for 2012) and that the player is probably not going to accept a trade anywhere; they should try because he’s pretty much used up his value to them on the field and needs to go for the good of Ichiro and the Mariners.

Could Ichiro be convinced that he would have a better chance of winning if he went to another team? Who knows? I’d say no, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The question that has to be presented to the meddlers in ownership is this: do you want to have a winning team or do you want to continue on with the Ichiro charade as if he’s an institution along the lines of Jeter?

Ichiro is useless to the Mariners as they’re currently constructed; signing him to an extension beyond 2012 would be a disaster even if he rebounds next season to something close to what he’s been in past years. The days of him being a focal point for the offense (and defense) are over; the team has had him and been bad for six of the past eight years; they’re not going to get better with him, so they should move on without him.

The Mariners have dispatched “icons” like Ken Griffey, Jr; Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez and were better because of it. Why can’t they do the same with Ichiro?

There are trades that could possibly be completed to get rid of Ichiro.

Would they take Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs? Putting Zambrano in a rotation with his countryman Felix Hernandez and getting him out of Chicago, along with the promise of free agency after next season could yield a strong year from Zambrano. I know they’ve been down this road with the Cubs when they got Bradley, but the salaries of Ichiro and Zambrano are nearly a wash.

I doubt Ichiro could ever be convinced to accept a trade to the Cubs.

To the Red Sox for John Lackey? Lackey has over $46 million coming to him including a bonus if he’s traded, so the Mariners would have to take on a significant amount of cash; but the Lackey-Boston marriage is a failure; moving him to a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Seattle and back to the AL West could return him to his Angels form.

Ichiro might be convinced that Boston is a good place for him to play and his game—defense, singles and speed—would be useful for the Red Sox because they, unlike the Mariners, have people to drive Ichiro in. The change of scenery might wake his bat from the stagnation that he’s experiencing with the woeful and rebuilding Mariners.

The Mets for Jason Bay? Again, they’re taking on money, but Bay’s only guaranteed $32 million through 2013. Bay has a full no-trade clause, but my guess is he’d waive it to get out of New York; would Ichiro be willing to accept a trade to the Mets?

The bottom line is this: it’s time for both sides to part and ownership is making Zduriencik’s life difficult—almost impossible—to turn things around with Ichiro on the team.

Judging from Baker’s article though, they’re going to again force Zduriencik to do something that’s not going to do anyone in Seattle any good at all. And it’s a terrible idea.

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Viewer Mail 4.3.2011

Books, Games, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mariners and Jack Zduriencik:

I bet if the “GENIUS” Jack Z. changed the club’s name to the Seattle Non-Conformists, no one would even notice. Maybe a handful would… care? I dunno.

Non-conformists? Acceptable.

Socipathic? Not-acceptable.

Look, I can’t blame Zduriencik for the appellation of genius or the “Truly Amazin’ Exec” silliness from the despicable Joel Sherman—he didn’t write this stuff and unlike Billy Beane, he didn’t appear to wallow in it and taking advantage of it to enrich himself and sow the seeds of that image.

You have to consider the sources who are plastering that image on someone who’s trying to do his job. None of them were operating from a baseline of credibility; either they had an agenda or didn’t know what they were talking about to begin with.

As for the Josh Lueke trade; the double-dealing when it came to Cliff Lee to the Yankees, then to the Rangers; and Milton Bradley, there are a lot of problems that had nothing to do with what happened between the lines.

Hypothetically, if Zduriencik is given a clean slate—let the 2009 (good) and 2010 (bad) seasons cancel themselves out—the Mariners still have to perform as if they’re in the right direction on the field and behave appropriately off it. Eric Wedge was a good hire toward that end, but with Bradley, there’s going to be an incident that will sully the organization again.

They have a loyal fan base in Seattle; they spend money; and have a nice ballpark. It’s a good locale to build a team.

Franklin Rabon writes RE the Dodgers and Hong-Chih Kuo:

The Dodgers have only one lefty and he’s their designated 8th inning guy who can’t throw more than two days in a row?!

I’m not of the mind that a team has to have a lefty specialist just for the sake of having a lefty specialist. You can find a lefty somewhere. Look at Royce Ring—he’s been everywhere; he’s been awful; and teams keep bringing him in because he’s lefty and breathing, not necessarily in that order.

You have to look at the opponents and the circumstances; if the Dodgers were in a division with the Red Sox, then I’d say they have to have a couple of lefties; but they’re in a division with the Padres, Rockies, Giants and Diamondbacks. Is there a group of lefty bats that have to be worried about among that group? Not really. As the season moves along and they need a lefty specialist, they’ll be able to find one.

Regarding Kuo, how many pitchers are asked to throw three days in a row in today’s game? Even the closers aren’t pushed that hard for fear of burning them out. With a dominating lefty with a 100-mph fastball and vicious slider like Kuo, I’d use him judiciously to make sure he’s healthy; he’s had Tommy John surgery twice and if the Dodgers are going to do anything in October, they’re going to need Kuo. Why burn him out now because he’s lefty?

JoeNats writes RE Nyjer Morgan:

As a Nats fan, I cooled to Nyjer in a game where he made a gallant attempt at a catch at the wall, missed it, and then–instead of keeping his head in the game and following the ball–threw his glove to the ground forcing Willingham to retrieve the rebound too late to thwart an inside-the-park home run. I get the impression that Morgan is just as hard on himself as he is on others and became a bi-polar influence in the clubhouse. As the season ran on, his impatience chilled potential rallies as he was thrown out on steals too early in the game and too early in the situation. If Morgan can temper his overall anger, I do believe he would make a good centerfielder and great base stealer and team personality.

He’s got a temper and as I said in my posting, I think it stems from his hockey experience where you can’t let any transgression go without retaliation.

My issue with Morgan wasn’t the player himself, but the lovelorn worship he received after playing brilliantly for the Nats following the trade from the Pirates.

He is what he is and part of that is getting caught stealing—a lot. Morgan needs to be reined in. Maybe going to the Brewers—the first club he’ll join with any legitimate designs on contention—is what he needs.

Like Elijah Dukes, the Nats had to get Morgan out of there and they got something for him in Cutter Dykstra; Morgan will be playing semi-regularly-to-regularly for the Brewers before long and they’ll be a better club for it.

Pam writes RE the NY Times picture of the Phillies that I posted here:

Yeah, the picture is pretty creepy.

Now if they were holding lightsabers…

They could be the Jedi trying to arrest Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. We know how that turned out.

I’ll be Palpatine.

I am Palpatine.

Joe (DaGodfather on Twitter) writes RE the Phillies pic:

I have a better question. Where’s Blanton? Wasn’t it the Phantastic Phour themselves who said that they would not do things like that if if did not include Blanton?

Including Joe Blanton in that article would’ve been pretty silly. He’s a pretty good pitcher who doesn’t belong in their group. I think back to the 1993 Braves. They’d just signed Greg Maddux and insisted that any profile of Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery included Pete Smith.

Pete Smith.

Pete Smith went 4-8 that year and after the season they traded him to the Mets of all places.

It would’ve been funny if they had Blanton lounging in front of the mound in a provocative position as the “Phoursome” was posed as they are now.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

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

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


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