American League Central—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I recently looked at the AL East, how they’re faring now and their prospects for the future. Now let’s look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

There are few baseball executives for whom their statements should be taken at face value, but White Sox GM Ken Williams is one. Because of that, when he says he misspoke about blowing the whole thing up at the conclusion of the 2011 season, then didn’t blow the whole thing up and instead made moves to try and win while getting younger and more flexible, I believe him.

The White Sox success can be chalked up to: manager Robin Ventura’s calm demeanor in stark contrast to the raving lunacy of Ozzie Guillen; Jake Peavy coming back from injury and pitching like a top tier starter; Chris Sale’s development as a starting pitcher; Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios’s comebacks; and the parity around the American League.

Ventura and Mike Matheny have become a regular “example” that managers don’t need to have managerial experience to be successful. Of course it’s nonsense and taken greatly out of context. Ventura’s done a good job and his cachet as a former All Star player and popular person in Chicago has helped him greatly, but anyone other than Guillen would’ve been taken as a welcome respite from the daily haranguing and controversy that surrounded the former manager’s big mouth and followed him—with disastrous results—to Miami.

As long as Williams is the GM, the White Sox have a chance to be competitive because he has no patience for long rebuilds and makes aggressive maneuvers accordingly.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have been inconsistent in every facet. Their defense, while not being as bad as predicted, still isn’t good; the offense is 7th in the AL in runs scored despite having two MVP candidates Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Austin Jackson having a fantastic year; the bullpen has been shaky; and Justin Verlander has been excellent and is still a Cy Young Award candidate, but has taken enough of a step back from his CYA/MVP of 2011 back to humanity to account for the Tigers fighting for a playoff spot.

There’s been talk that manager Jim Leyland, in the final year of his contract, could be in trouble if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. It’s silly. Leyland can still handle the egos in that clubhouse and the very last thing the Tigers need to do and, tying in with the concept of a manager with zero experience, is to hire someone young just to make a change.

The Tigers dealt away several prospects including Jacob Turner to get Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, but they’ve held onto Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. The farm system is not barren and as long as they have Fielder, Cabrera, and Verlander, they’ll be competitive. Changing managers for the sake of it makes zero sense.

Kansas City Royals

It’s ludicrous how those who felt the Royals were going to parlay their loaded farm system into a leap to legitimate contention jump off the train as soon as a rebuild doesn’t adhere to the “plan”. Young players sometimes hit speedbumps on the way up. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still two players around whom to build; Alex Gordon is a solid presence at the plate and in the field; Billy Butler is emerging as an unknown star; and Salvador Perez and several young pitchers got hurt.

The talent is still there. As long as they don’t panic, there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

They do need to show improvement for manager Ned Yost to keep his job past next May/June; and GM Dayton Moore will probably get one more managerial hire if Yost has to be replaced, then the onus will be on him.

Cleveland Indians

2012 went completely wrong with 2013 not looking much better. They got off to a good start and were hovering around contention through mid-season until they collapsed completely and, since being 50-50 on July 27th, have gone 10-36. Manny Acta has a contract for next season, but since the Indians don’t have much money to spend and are openly ready to listen to offers for one of their few marketable players Shin-Soo Choo, there’s no point in sending Acta back out there as a lame duck when they have a managerial prospect in the popular former Indians’ hero Sandy Alomar Jr. on the coaching staff.

Closer Chris Perez ripped the organization from top to bottom recently and will presumably be shipped out of town for his candor. Considering that Perez is a slightly better-than-average closer, it’s not his place to be opening his mouth. The Indians are short on foundational talent. Asdrubal Cabrera is a very good player; Carlos Santana doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher and his skills are less impressive as a first baseman; and their supposed top two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, haven’t pitched well.

The Indians have a long road ahead of them and may have to restart their rebuild.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins were competitive for a decade after a decade of being so terrible that they were a target of contraction. Now instead of being a target, they built Target Field and spent money to try and win in 2010. To that end, they traded away a top prospect Wilson Ramos for a mediocre reliever Matt Capps; they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and repeated the Mets’ mistake with Kazuo Matsui, except Nishioka isn’t as talented as Matsui was; and they brought back their old GM Terry Ryan who still hasn’t had the interim label taken from his title.

Ownership has said that they want Ryan to take the job on a permanent basis. We’ll see. If Ryan isn’t fully committed or ownership wants to go in a new direction with an outsider, manager Ron Gardenhire could be in trouble as well.

Offensively, they’ve rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 with Joe Mauer back to being Joe Mauer; a tremendous year from Josh Willingham; and Justin Morneau finally returning to form after his concussion problems.

They’re still severely short in the pitching department and are running into identical issues as the Mets did when they moved into their new park after contending for several years and building a canyon instead of a ballpark. The Mets moved the fences in and started a full-blown rebuild. The Twins have yet to do that, but they’re going to have to infuse the organization with more talent to get back to competitiveness.

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Who Won’t Be Traded At The Deadline?

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Everyone’s coming up with their lists of players who are going to be available or traded at the upcoming MLB trading deadline. I’ve been doing it too and will continue up to the big day, but there are also names floating around that come from anonymous (possibly nonexistent) sources; have reasons to possibly be on the block but actually aren’t; or are pulled out of the air by rumormongers because they can’t think of anything else to write or talk about.

Here are some of the players that are implied to be available, but aren’t and won’t be traded.

Josh Willingham, Twins

The Twins are ready to deal but they’re not going to get rid of every big league player on the roster. They just signed Willingham this past winter, he’s paid reasonably and they wouldn’t get much for him if they did decide to trade him. The days of teams taking on big contracts and giving up significant prospects are over and the Twins aren’t going to pay any of Willingham’s salary.

He’s 33 and is signed through 2014 at $7 million per year. He’s either more valuable for the Twins to keep or to look to trade as the contract winds down.

The Twins aren’t going to have the stomach to rebuild the team completely in an expansion-franchise sense. Willingham can help them in the next two seasons and he’s a good influence on the younger players.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

I understand the thinking that the Diamondbacks might listen. Managing general partner Ken Kendrick called Upton out for his mediocre play and GM Kevin Towers listened to offers on Upton shortly after taking over. There’s a logic to doing something drastic when a team with high expectations is struggling, but Upton is only 24 (25 in August); is signed at a reasonable rate ($38.5 million from 2013-2015); and the Diamondbacks still have a good shot at the playoffs despite their poor start.

Upton has a no-trade clause to four teams: the Tigers, A’s, Indians and Royals.

Other teams will call and ask; as he should, Towers might listen to what the offers are; but Upton’s not getting moved.

Alex Gordon, Royals

He’s finally found a defensive home in left field; he’s signed through 2015; is hitting better after a bad luck-infused start; and the Royals aren’t doing the “we’re rebuilding” thing and dumping any and all veterans.

The Royals have something positive building in spite of their stimulus response critics. Gordon is a part of that.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners

They’re not trading him. Forget it.

It’s partially because the Mariners have a load of pitching on the roster and on the way up and need a veteran leader to front the rotation when they’re ready to move from terrible to mediocre to (someday) pretty good, but if they’re letting Ichiro Suzuki go after this season, they don’t want to alienate the fanbase entirely by dumping two fan favorites within months of one another.

Tim Lincecum, Giants

There’s a logic to the idea. He’s been bad this season, somewhat unlucky and his velocity is down. Lincecum is a free agent after the 2013 season and has shown no inclination to sign a long-term deal for one penny less than market value.

One thing that flashed through my head was Cole Hamels and one of the Phillies’ minor league arms (Phillippe Aumont, Trevor May) for Lincecum. The Giants would get an ace (pitching like an ace) for the rest of the season and a young pitcher; the Phillies would have Lincecum for this year and next.

But the Giants aren’t going to trade their most popular and marketable player regardless of how poor he’s going.

David Wright, Mets

Wright is having an MVP-quality season and is back to the player he was until the Mets moved into Citi Field and turned Wright into a nervous wreck who altered his swing and approach to account for the stadium’s dimensions. The Mets are hovering around contention and aren’t drawing well. Trading Wright would throw the white flag up on the season. That’s not going to happen.

He’s signed for 2013 at $16 million and the Mets are going to give him an extension comparable to Ryan Zimmerman’s with the Nationals. He’s going nowhere.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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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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Sticker Shlock

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“Don’t be surprised if the Twins give at least some thought to trading Justin Morneau.”

Um, yeah. No kidding.

The above quote is from this Full Count video link from Ken Rosenthal.

Where’s he been?

There’s no story here other than what’s being sold. The Twins are horrible, they need multiple pieces and want to slash salary. But it’s treated as breaking news.

Morneau is making $14 million this season and $14 million next season. He’s had post-concussion syndrome and wrist trouble. He’s hit 4 homers in the past 5 games and has something left at age 31, but is an expensive risk. No team is taking that money unless they’re convinced Morneau is healthy, the Twins pick up a chunk of it or it’s in exchange for another bad contract.

None of that is relevant to the initial premise: that it’s a surprise that the Twins would trade him. Of course they would. They’d be fools not to.

More potential dealings for the Twins.

They’re not trading Josh Willingham unless they’re bowled over for him. They just signed him to a very reasonable contract of 3-years, $21 million and he’s a part of the solution with Joe Mauer, not part of the problem. The other players mentioned—Denard Span, Matt Capps could be had and (“maybe even” according to Rosenthal) Carl Pavano.

Maybe even? What maybe even? They’d love to dump Pavano and get something for him. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and he hasn’t pitched well. What do they need him for? And why would they try to re-sign a barely mediocre 37-year-old?

Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Capps are all going to be gone before the season is over. They’ll keep Span. He’s signed to a reasonable deal (owed $11.75 million from 2013-2014 and under team control for 2015 with an option) and it’s hard to find centerfielders.

Alex Gordon can be pried loose?

That’s according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Where he’s getting this is presumably from the same place where lurk the unnamed GMs and executives that pop up as sources in ludicrous stories. I think it’s Joel Sherman’s repulsive to the touch lair of lies.

That concept of trading Gordon makes sense except that they’ve shown zero willingness to make “play for the future” trades and they just signed Gordon to a long-term extension worth $37.5 million through 2015 with a 2016 option. He’s been hitting in bad luck (.277 BAbip) as opposed to his .358 BAbip last season. Gordon’s not a .303 hitter like he hit last year, but he’s not a .220 hitter either. He’s found a home in left field as a defensive force. What purpose would there be for the Royals to trade him as they’re trying to attach the fans to their young players and build a winner? More “wait ‘til five years from now”? I don’t think so. Gordon’s going nowhere.

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The Twins As League Tomato Can

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First it was the Red Sox and now it’s the Angels. Two teams with high preseason expectations and off to atrocious and scrutiny-laced starts are righting their flagging ships by beating up on the Twins.

For a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning and garnering a playoff spot as if by divine right (and being in a bad division), the Twins have rapidly become the league punching bag.

It’s going to last all season.

The return of former GM Terry Ryan was greeted with much fanfare and expectations of improvement. In the winter, he made a series of old-school “Twins” moves by signing the underrated Jamey Carroll; the innings-eating Jason Marquis; declining the contract option and re-signing veteran reliever Matt Capps; signing Josh Willingham and the competent backup catcher/first baseman/outfielder Ryan Doumit.

He also brought in an array of arms for the bullpen in the hopes that a few of them would be cheap, useful cogs in the machine.

But none of that addressed the fundamental problems that led to the 99-loss disaster of 2011.

The starting rotation is still contact-based and the pitchers are eerily similar to one another; the bullpen is serviceable but nowhere near what it was when manager Ron Gardenhire had durable veterans who knew their roles and were backed up by an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan; the lineup has black spots and no replacements on the horizon.

Already 6-17, Ryan doesn’t even have the option to clear out the house and build for the future because there are few players that any other team would be willing to give up a ton to get. Justin Morneau is a shell of what he was after concussions and their aftereffects. He might be worth a shot if he wasn’t due $28 million for 2012-2013. Perhaps they could eat some of the money to get back better young players in a deal.

Denard Span would bring back value, but he’s signed cheaply (a guaranteed $14.75 million with an option for 2015 at $9 million) and, with it so difficult to find a competent centerfielder, it makes no sense to move him unless they’re bowled over with an offer.

Joe Mauer is hitting again, but with Mauer, the residue of the failed tenure of demoted GM Bill Smith remains. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos instead of trading him to the Nationals for Capps, they’d have a big league ready catcher who would free them to move Mauer to another position at least part time. In much the same way the Yankees are proving now with the burgeoning nightmare trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners, if you’re trading a top prospect who can catch and hit, you’d better get something useful and proven in return.

The Twins will get low level prospects for pending free agent Carl Pavano (trade him to the Yankees!) and probably less for fellow free agent Francisco Liriano.

The organization had been the dominant force in the AL Central for a decade, but now they’re relegated to the equivalent of a found opponent that the managers and promoters of rising boxers use to fatten up their charge’s knockout record.

If I were a Twins’ fan, I’d get used to the abuse because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

Billy Beane—2012 Baseball Guide Excerpt

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I’m sure some of those who are familiar with me, what I do and how strongly I feel about the farcical nature of Moneyball the book and how much worse Moneyball the movie was in terms of factual inaccuracy are expecting me to go into a rant about Billy Beane. Again.

But I’m not.

I’m saving that.

This is straight recapping and assessment.

The A’s began another rebuild phase under Beane as he allowed Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to leave as free agents and traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for packages of youngsters. He was intent—so he implied—on waiting out the resolution of the possible new ballpark in San Jose.

But then he did something strange.

He started making maneuvers that were diametrically opposed to a full-scale rebuild. He re-signed Coco Crisp; he signed veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes; and then committed the cardinal sin in the context of verifiable stats and knowing what one is purchasing by investing heavily ($36 million over 4-years) in a Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes.

Beane says and does whatever he wants.

There’s always an excuse.

The media was focusing on the job status of Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) so he replaced him not because of Geren doing a bad job, but because of media scrutiny being a distraction.

They don’t have any money, so they clear out the house of any and all veterans.

The ballpark is terrible, has no luxury boxes and the fans don’t come so he has to wait and hope the San Jose deal comes through.

No one wants to play in Oakland, so they have to take chances on the likes of Cespedes.

The Angels and Rangers are powerhouses, so why should the A’s bother to try and compete?

If it’s not one thing it’s another.

It’s not hard to be considered a genius when nothing is ever you’re fault; when the sycophants will find an excuse regardless of what you do and whether or not it makes sense.

No one blames him for anything because they’re either invested in Moneyball, don’t know enough to realize that Beane isn’t a genius whose every decision turns to gold or are afraid to protest for fear of being shouted down and ostracized.

He’s flinging things at the wall and hoping they work. That’s not analytical; it’s not based on numbers. It’s pure desperation on the part of the supposed “genius” and willfully blind silence on the part of those who know what he’s doing and refuse to protest are even more guilty.

His team is still terrible and the new template is 2015.

By then they’ll be good and hopefully have a new ballpark.

People in the media and starstruck fans might not want to admit the truth, but people inside baseball are aware. Beane let it be known through intermediaries leaking it to the media that he was willing to listen if the Cubs came calling to run their club.

He wanted the job.

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

People in baseball know he’s a fraud. And he’s trapped in Oakland.

Beane signed a contract extension to keep him with the Athletics through 2019.

That’s where he is and that’s where he’ll stay.

The above is a snippet from my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on KindleSmashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

Billy Beane’s House of Lies and Simplified Math

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Another defense of Billy Beane and his “strategy” for 2012 is presented by Richard Justice MLB.com—link.

Let’s deal in facts, shall we?

Here are the players the Athletics have acquired this winter and their 2012 salaries:

Seth Smith: $2.415 million.

Bartolo Colon: $2 million.

This is a total of $4.415 million for two exceedingly mediocre “name” new additions.

Here are the departures:

Trevor Cahill: $3.5 million (guaranteed through 2015 at $29 million with options in 2016 and 2017).

Gio Gonzalez: $3.25 million (arbitration eligible for the first time).

Craig Breslow: filed for arbitration and asked for $2.1 million; was offered $1.5 million.

Andrew Bailey: arbitration eligible for the first time; figure a contract of $1.5 million.

David DeJesus: $4.25 million (2-years, $10 million guaranteed from the Cubs).

Josh Willingham: $7 million (3-years, $21 million guaranteed from the Twins).

Hideki Matsui: was paid $4.25 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Michael Wuertz: was paid $2.8 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Rich Harden: was paid $1.5 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

All for a total of $29.85 million based on what they’re guaranteed for 2012 or what they were paid in 2011.

These are the raises for players they’ve kept:

Kurt Suzuki: $1.6 million.

Coco Crisp: $250,000.

Brandon McCarthy: $3.275 million.

Grant Balfour: $25,000.

Brett Anderson: $2 million.

Daric Barton: $675,000

Joey Devine: $180,000

Adam Rosales: $175,000

That’s a total of $8.18 million.

Adding $8.18 million+$4.415=$12.33 million.

Subtracting $12.33 million from $29.85 million comes to $17.52 million.

So from a payroll of $55 million in 2011, the A’s have slashed a total of $17.52 million.

Justice writes:

When (Beane) looked at the A’s after the 2011 season, he saw a third-place club that had neither the payroll nor the Minor League talent to make a dramatic improvement. He had $51 million in contract commitments for 2012 and a $55 million budget even before attempting to re-sign his starting outfield of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp (only Crisp will be back).

“I had to look at it honestly,” he said. “Look at the moves the Angels and Rangers have made. They’re going to have payrolls rivaling the Red Sox and Yankees. It just seemed foolish to go forward with a third-place team that was losing significant parts. We felt we had to do something dramatic.”

“Honestly”? Beane uses the word “honestly”?

Where is he getting these numbers from?

They could’ve dumped Crisp’s $5.75 million and found another, cheaper center fielder somewhere who would do pretty much the same things Crisp does. Or they could’ve just stuck Josh Reddick out there and given him the chance to play every day. What did they need Crisp for?

McCarthy just had his first season of moderate health after bouncing from the White Sox to the Rangers and having repeated shoulder problems—which also cost him eight starts in 2011—and failing as a top prospect. The only way the Athletics were able to sign him was because he was short of options for a rotation spot. He’s their new ace?

Someone would take Balfour and his fastball.

Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade (one of the prior teardowns) and Beane clings to him as if he’s hoping against hope that someday he’ll fulfill that potential.

The mischaracterizations and fabrications inherent in Moneyball—the book and the movie—are continuing unabated and unchallenged. Replete with salable buzzwords implying the same party line for his constituency, it goes on and on.

There’s a separation from rebuilding and collecting prospects and ratcheting up the rhetoric to maintain the veneer of knowing what one’s doing, having a plan and executing it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Lies.

Fabrications.

Political-style calculations.

And the masses are still buying it.

Under no circumstances am I questioning the prospects nor the basis for making the trades of Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. We don’t know about the players he received and won’t know for awhile.

That’s not the point.

The point is that he’s spewing the same garbage he’s been spewing for years in a self-interested, self-absolving manner to shun the responsibility for the failures of the teams he built.

They’ve failed to meet expectations when they were supposed to contend and now they’re going to meet expectations by falling to 95 losses.

But it’s not Billy’s fault.

I don’t want to be sold something by a clever marketer/con-artist who’s still clutching and using this nonsensical and faulty biography.

Beane’s become a “means to an end” executive and that end is to hold onto that aura of “genius” that was created by Moneyball. There are still those that believe it and take his word for why he does what he does—they don’t bother to check.

Is it because they trust him? That they want to protect him? Or is it because they’re afraid of what they might find if they dig for facts?

The A’s are going to have a lower payroll and they’re going to be much worse than they could’ve been with worse players than they had because of this “strategy” that is played up in the latest piece about Beane.

When does this stop?

When will the true objective reality be examined and cited?

When?

//

Poor Billy

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So you’re trapped in a division with two powerhouses.

You play in an awful, antiquated and uninviting home park that, in spite of your best efforts, will never be suitably habitable for your baseball team, has few amenities and won’t attract the casual fans, season ticket holders and suite buyers looking to impress clients.

You have a few marketable players—young and talented—signed to reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future.

But the expectations are that you can’t compete because of the above factors.

What do you do?

Do you stick to the blueprint you created to combat these obstacles in your path?

Or do you give up the present and dream of a new ballpark; the ability to relocate; a bolt from the heavens to save you from your inescapable fate?

Well, if you’re the Rays you stick to what you have and try to find a way to win.

And you succeed.

If you’re the Athletics and Billy Beane, you continue the trend of playing the hapless everyman locked in the vacancy of a medieval prison and praying on a daily basis to the Baseball Gods that something, somewhere, someone, somehow will help you to escape this purgatory.

You move forward ably assisted by those in the media, fans and industry who are still immersed in your crafted reputation based on a skillfully presented piece of creative non-fiction that is becoming more and more absurd by the day; the same piece of creative non-fiction that was dramatically licensed into a film and made worse with mischaracterizations, twisted facts and outright falsehoods, yet is given credibility because it was made by an Academy Award winning director, Bennett Miller and has the “sexiest man alive”, Brad Pitt portraying you.

You’re still living off of Moneyball. You’re trying to alter the plot to make it appear as if nothing is your fault.

But those inconvenient facts keep popping up.

Of course there are those who still cling to this aura of genius and shield you to the last. They utter such inanities as “Billy Beane isn’t to blame for sad state of A’s” and Bruce Jenkins plays the role as the defense lawyer trying to defend the indefensible.

Through strategic leaks from devoted emissaries, it was made clear that you wanted the Cubs job. “Billy’s willing to listen to the Cubs,” etc. One problem: the Cubs didn’t want you. They never approached you. They had no interest in you. What made it worse was that they had their sights set on someone who might not have existed had it not been for you; for Michael Lewis; for Moneyball. Theo Epstein was their one and only target and they got him. Epstein’s rise came as a direct result of your somewhat understandable, part-family/part-prescient/part legacy decision that led to you staying with the Athletics.

By now we all know what would’ve happened had you followed through on your handshake agreement to take over the Red Sox.

For ten years, Red Sox Nation has had a paper bag handy to collectively hyperventilate at the carnage your tenure would have wrought both financially and practically. They offered you something in the neighborhood of $12.5 million and were going to allow you to spend a substantial amount of time running the team remotely from your home on the West Coast so you could be near your young daughter…and away from the stifling fishbowl that is Boston sports.

But luckily for them, you backed out.

Down the drain went your plans to trade Jason Varitek; to sign a nearly finished Edgardo Alfonzo; to sign someone named Mark Johnson to replace Varitek; to make Manny Ramirez a DH.

Who’s David Ortiz? Would you have known? Would your luck have been similar to that of Epstein to sign a released player such as Ortiz?

The Red Sox won a championship two years after you declined their offer and, as Moneyball the movie says, used the principles that you created.

Except you didn’t create them

You implemented them.

For that you deserve praise, but not to the degree where nothing is ever your fault; where you receive accolades for what goes well and constant, worshipful, caveat-laden pieces on every possible outlet giving you a free pass for what has gone wrong.

You get the credit.

You never get the blame.

What a wonderful world it is in Oakland.

Why would you ever want to leave? You’re an owner now.

Based on nothing.

You’re bulletproof to criticism.

Based on nothing.

You’re doing whatever it is you want looking toward the future ballpark, money, luxury suites, season-ticket sales, WINNING!!! that someday, someday, someday will come.

Based on nothing.

The Rays are living with the hovering terror of the Yankees and Red Sox in a division that is far more treacherous and hopeless than anything you’ve ever experienced and they’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four years.

What have you done?

They detail a plan and execute it.

You fling things at the wall, make your speaking engagements, wallow in the idolatry and reset the computer when too much malware accumulates.

And you make money.

To augment the young pitching you developed, you tried to win in 2009 by acquiring an MVP-quality bat in Matt Holliday, reaching into the past with Jason Giambi and signing a leader-type veteran Orlando Cabrera.

Your team was a disaster.

You retooled.

In 2011, you signed and traded for veteran bats Josh Willingham and David DeJesus along with established bullpen arms Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

Again to augment the young pitching you developed.

Your team was a disaster.

So you abandon the young pitching because, obviously, that was the flaw in your plan. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey were traded away for that “future”.

At least you’ve kept Coco Crisp and are looking at Ryan Ludwick.

That’ll work because you’re a genius.

By my count, this is rebuild number five. The fifth time you’ve retooled and purged the club of any and all players making a reasonable amount of money as you purse your lips and nod, gazing toward the sun and stars.

Someday, someday, someday.

The ballpark, the young prospects, the drafts, the hope, the hype—one day it’ll happen. Then you’ll win. Then your resume will be legitimate and not based on a mythmaker with an agenda.

It’s lasted forever.

Where and when does it end?

When is someone—anyone—going to stop and look at you with the vaunted “objective analysis” that you harped on so ferociously like a hypnotizing mantra that your congregation and followers so avidly repeated and used to shelter you?

It’s enough.

You’re not staying in Oakland because you don’t want to abandon the team in its time of need. You’re staying in Oakland because the industry sees right through you and your propaganda and no one else wants you.

And it’s enough.

You’ve lived off of Moneyball for ten years. Now we’re approaching the logical conclusion as the only salvation you have left is the old standby of “bad ballpark, bad fans, bad competition, bad rules, bad, bad, bad”. Those who are either too stupid to see or too invested in your supposed genius to acknowledge the truth maintain their blindness, deafness, dumbness.

Your team is a train wreck; you gave up on 2012, 2013 and 2014 because you don’t have any answers left and are clinging to a sinking life preserver in a dark, unforgiving sea.

Yet there are no sharks.

Where are they?

Are they responding to editorial edict to continually show you in the best possible light? Are they afraid of the reaction to stating facts that a large segment of the baseball public doesn’t want to hear?

The plausible deniability you maintain in having allowed the disparagement of Art Howe in print and on film is more telling about your selfishness than anything else you’ve done; Howe, who absent the hyperbole you had as a player, had a workmanlike and respected career you could never have hoped to have and saw his reputation as a baseball man torn to shreds by Moneyball the book and then was made worse by tearing him apart as a human being in the movie. Never once was he contextualized. You never said a word when you could’ve and should’ve.

Nothing.

Because it was to your convenience that he—and you—be judged that way.

It’s terrific to use a reputation as a bodyguard; to never have anything be your fault; to receive credit and no blame.

Nothing’s your fault.

Let’s shed a tear and hold a moment of silence for Poor Billy.

It’s not his fault that his team is terrible; that Moneyball was written; that he’s facing the prospect of an Angels team with Albert Pujols now leading the way; that the Rangers—emerging from bankruptcy two short years ago—have taken his stat-based techniques, bolstered them with old-school strategies and scouting acumen and now have back-to-back pennant winners and won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Moneyball is bankrupt as well, but there’s no Chapter 11 protection from its chapters full of lies. Being morally bankrupt doesn’t count I suppose even with the protections you’ve received.

Nothing’s your fault.

The Rays are in a worse situation than you.

But at least they try.

So wallow in the love. Accept the sympathy. Watch as your team loses close to 100 games.

And know the truth.

//