The R.A. Dickey Trade Part III—Desperation or Progression for the Blue Jays?

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Since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as Blue Jays’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos has done many things that garnered him credit for running his club the “right” way by combining old-school scouting with new age stats; for showing aggressiveness when the time called for it; and for being fearless. The Blue Jays, in that time, were rebuilding and reloading; clearing salaries and planning for the “future.” They had John Farrell, a stat-based manager with a sterling reputation; they’d accumulated prospects that were just about ready to take the next step forward and, if everything went well, would contend in 2012.

But again, as is the possibility with a club that doesn’t spend a lot of money and is relying on the development of young players, the 2012 Blue Jays were ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, fell from 81-81 to 73-89 and sat by impotently as the Orioles came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After so many years of building for the “future,” when was that “future” going to come? For so long, the Blue Jays have been frozen in place or moving backwards, shoving the rock up the hill only to see it come tumbling back down again, many times right on top of them.

With a bolt of lightning, the Marlins’ latest fire sale led to the Blue Jays acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and prospects. After that, with the decision to try and win now essentially made, they surrendered two more top prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, to the Mets to get reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Dickey to a contract extension worth $25 million to complete the trade.

This isn’t a spending spree for its own sake nor is it a drastic philosophical deviation from one strategy to the other, but it’s more of a realization that the time to go for it is now. The Yankees and Red Sox are shells of what they were. The Orioles overachieved in 2012. The Rays are still fighting payroll constraints. With the extra Wild Card, the door is wide open for a team like the Blue Jays to move up.

Farrell was the equivalent of a replaceable teen idol—he was there because he fit the suit, the fans screamed when they saw him, and he couldn’t actually do any of the things a manager needs to do well. His results were disastrous in every respect and there’s a palpable relief that he’s gone. He’s been replaced by the former Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons who was horribly underrated for his strategic acumen and is a sound, unexpected hiring.

Having seen firsthand the risks of trading a star pitcher Roy Halladay and, in the subsequent series of deals, winding up with Kyle Drabek (having just undergone his second Tommy John surgery), Anthony Gose, and d’Arnaud, they are rightfully dubious of prospects and their projections.

They didn’t alter strategies on the fly and make panicky maneuvers for Anthopoulos to try and save his job. Nor did they show desperation and haphazardly try to take advantage of the weakness in their division. They’ve made a natural progression based on opportunity and availability.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ winter refurbishing and a Marlins-type spending spree designed to validate a beautiful new ballpark with an owner, Jeffrey Loria, elusively hovering in the dark ready to pull the plug and backtrack on promises and commitments.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ flurry of acquisitions and the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, reportedly on orders of ownership, in order to take some of the spotlight away from their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays being decisive and the Dodgers new, endless amounts of cash netting Zack Greinke as a free agent and providing them the ability to absorb the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.

What these clubs and the Blue Jays have done are totally independent of each other.

The simple narrative is that the Blue Jays have chosen to spend with the big boys, but the reality is that they built up the farm system to give themselves the assets to acquire players when they were ready to win. Did they expect it to happen this quickly? Probably not, but Athopoulos was allowed to take on those contracts—many of which are heavily backloaded—and for the first time in 20 years, they have a viable chance to win. The waters parted to open a path and they took it. It’s not a change in the blueprint, but adapting to the situation. Now they’re ready to contend.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their second straight World Series win in 1993. They have a rabid and loyal fanbase and now they now have the goods to make another run—with similar star-level talent to their title-winning teams—two decades later. If they pull it off, the only people who are going to care about the money they spent are the same constituency whose metrics aren’t about winning, but about doing it cheaper than the other guy to prove how smart they are. That faction has become increasingly marginalized into what it truly is: a small, fringe group that shouts loudly into the wind. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, the money they spent or the prospects they surrendered will be irrelevant because, in the end, it’s about winning. Now the Blue Jays have the goods to do it not just on paper and with best case scenarios, but with superior on-field talent.

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8:25 AM–MLB Deadline Day

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Let’s take a brief look at the trades that have been completed up to now, at 8:25 AM EST.

White Sox acquire Francisco Liriano from the Twins

It’s increasingly looking as if Twins’ “interim” GM Terry Ryan probably should’ve stayed retired. Getting Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez for a lefty arm in Liriano—even one who’s a pending free agent—is a nonexistent return on a potential difference-maker down the stretch. And why trade him 3 days before the deadline? Why not wait? The only situation in which to jump at a trade that early is when there’s an offer on the table not to be refused. This was a deal that the Twins should’ve refused, or at least waited to see if anything else came up.

Blue Jays trade OF Travis Snider to the Pirates for RHP Brad Lincoln

Snider was a 1st round draft pick of then-Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi in 2006 and is the prototypical lefty masher with pop that the supposedly stat-savvy once coveted. He’s gotten chances to play with the Blue Jays and shown flashes of being a 15-20 homer man, but has also endured horrific slumps. Snider’s more of a Matt Stairs-type than an everyday player.

Lincoln was also a 1st round pick in 2006 who failed as a starter—amid blame being doled on former Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for changing his mechanics—and has found a home in the bullpen. Perhaps the Blue Jays are going to try him as a starter; perhaps the Pirates will give Snider a legitimate chance to play.

Neither is a kid anymore with Lincoln 27 and Snider 24. Both could use a change.

Cubs trade LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman

Vizcaino is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but had a 100-mph fastball before he got hurt. Chapman is 25 and stagnating at Triple A. He strikes out a batter-per-inning. Johnson is a speedy and useful extra outfielder who can play all three positions.

I’ve always liked Maholm and felt it was a drastic mistake for the Pirates to turn down his contract option when they could’ve held onto him and used/traded him. Maholm is not a rental for the Braves as he has a contract option for 2013 at $6.5 million. That said, this trade is in line with the Braves looking for an “impact” starter such as Zack Greinke, but also placing the likes of Jason Vargas in the category of “impact”. Vargas is not that and nor is Maholm, although Maholm is better than Vargas. It’s a useful and not earth-shattering pickup.

If it were a team president/GM combo in Chicago that was the target of ridicule by the self-proclaimed “experts” in the media and clever purveyors of snark, does anyone doubt that the joke would be made that the Cubs are under the mistaken impression that the combination of an Arodys and a Chapman means they’re getting a 200-mph fastball in some weird Frankenstein mixing and matching of human parts?

Cubs trade C Geovany Soto to the Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham

Brigham’s numbers in Double A haven’t been impressive over the past two seasons, but Cubs’ boss Theo Epstein is cleaning house and accumulating arms. Soto was a burgeoning star once, but injuries and apparent apathy from playing with a team spiraling so far, so fast appears to have affected him negatively. The change to a contender with a very friendly home part for hitters is a good move for him.

In a corresponding move, the Rangers designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. Is there anyone, anywhere who doubts Torrealba’s going to wind up with the Mets?

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Joke Or Not, If Alderson’s Unhappy, He Should Leave

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To the best of my knowledge the Mets aren’t paying Sandy Alderson with IOUs from one ply peeled from two-ply pieces of toilet paper.

Nor are the checks written in the penmanship of someone right-handed trying to write left-handed and signed, “Jeff’s Dad” as if Jeff Wilpon were trying to pay Alderson with whatever’s left of his dad’s teetering financial empire.

Alderson’s being paid in real money and he’s being paid a lot of it.

Alderson has decided, as he’s making his way to spring training, to start a Twitter account. The first tweet was either a badly worded or misunderstood joke or a shot at the Mets’ paucity of funds.

Under the handle MetsGM, Alderson said:

Getting ready for Spring Training-Driving to FL but haven’t left yet. Big fundraiser tonight for gas money. Also exploring PAC contribution.

Whether it was an attempt at comedy or a legitimate kick at the fact that he doesn’t have any money to spend, he’s oblivious if he didn’t realize that saying that would be construed as a negative toward his employer.

Can you imagine one of George Steinbrenner’s GMs saying something like this and still being the GM the following day?

Or Vince Lombardi so openly disparaging a team that he tried to craft into the epitome of professionalism and year-round proper representation of the Green Bay Packers?

It wouldn’t happen because there was a baseline, known code of conduct of what would and wouldn’t be acceptable from any and all employees of their teams.

Alderson was a Marine and should understand that even if the Secretary of the Navy is from a different party as the President or disagrees with policy, he’s not going to publicly say something so negative—even in a joking context—about his bosses or his branch.

Alderson was a lawyer and a respected GM for the first decade of his career with the Athletics. Then, when he moved to the forefront, his own personality came to light.

Along with the resume of being Vietnam veteran and well-spoken military man and adaptive, intuitive corporate lawyer, there’s another side to Alderson—a snarky, credit-seeking and obnoxious side that has reared its head repeatedly.

As GM of the Athletics, Alderson’s success was tied to two things: money and Tony LaRussa. When the A’s spent money under Alderson and were managed by the Hall of Famer LaRussa, they won. When the money dried up, they slowly declined; then LaRussa left and the team came apart.

Alderson went to the Padres, behaved like a capricious tyrant and created factions that were beholden to him to craft an aura of dysfunction where everyone was looking over their shoulders for someone holding a knife.

It’s been this way in every job he’s undertaken since and is now happening again with the Mets.

Whether he wanted the Mets job (and it certainly appeared he did when he was interviewing for it) or took it as a favor to Bud Selig is irrelevant. He took the job and is being compensated heavily for it. He’s gotten everything he wanted including the high-priced hirings of his lieutenants Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi. He hired the manager he wanted in Terry Collins. If he had a load of money at his disposal, there’s no guarantee he would’ve wanted to spend it on Jose Reyes because it’s never been his modus operandi to invest so much money in a player who relies on speed and doesn’t get on base.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The circumstances with the team are what they are, financially and practically.

Financially, ownership is under siege from a lawsuit that they claim is doling out blame and holding them accountable for transgressions that they are not guilty of committing.

That will be settled in time and the Wilpons will either find a way to maintain control of the team or sell it.

Alderson may or may not be the GM of the new owner; he may or may not remain as the GM if the Wilpons retain control.

Practically, even if there was a ton of money available, the free agent market was such that the Mets were unlikely to dive deeply into it to bring in enough talent to compete in a loaded division. The farm system needed to be rebuilt and the big league club overhauled. In actuality, the Madoff trial is giving them the built-in excuse to refurbish the club correctly—something I would think Alderson would embrace to put a club together devoid of the $200 million superstar since those contracts almost inevitably become onerous by year four or five.

That too is secondary to the perception of the team.

On the one hand, okay, it’s a joke; on the other, he’s the GM and shouldn’t be openly attacking his club even in jest. If you’re the GM of the team and there’s even a split-second hesitation as to how a joke is going to be interpreted, then it shouldn’t be said. Once it has to be explained, it was a bad joke.

If it was a subtle attempt to say publicly what he says in starker terms privately; if Alderson is unhappy with the money at his disposal; if he doesn’t like working for the Wilpons; if he took the Mets job only as a favor to Selig; if he wants out and is being passive aggressive to get that information into the public sphere, then he should resign and stop taking the Wilpons’ money to be the GM of the club.

This type of stuff is why they’re the “Mets”. I don’t mean the Mets organization. I mean an adjective for a punchline of whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and that the employees—even in the upper reaches of the hierarchy—are willing to make negative and embarrassing comments to highlight that fact.

Done with appropriately hideous timing befitting the “Mets”, while the team across town is enduring their own humiliating scandals involving their GM Brian Cashman and his bevy of girlfriends and divorce, one of whom was apparently stalking him, Alderson decided—as seems to be the Mets wont—to make the Mets the butt of evening gossip and laughter. For the titular head of the baseball operations, someone whose conduct and skills in dealing with the media and manipulating the language to prevent such a thing from happening, it was a stupid and inappropriate comment to make. Former GM Omar Minaya’s biggest fault was crisis control and a lack of skill with the language, but I have no recollection of him saying something like this about his employers.

The Mets are not going to stop being a joke until they cease treating themselves as a joke. It comes from a clear set of rules that are adhered to from the simplicity of wearing a coat and tie when traveling on the road to not criticizing the organization.

From the time of Alderson’s hiring, I said that the Mets have to cease the practice of acting as if any star player who joins the organization is doing them a favor; that any and every player they currently have is here out of desperate necessity rather than out of a business agreement between parties. Until the Mets make the conscious decision to stop laughing at themselves, why should anyone else hesitate to laugh at them?

If there are people within the current organizational structure who don’t want to be part of the Mets, then they should leave. When I said it 15 months ago, I was referring to the players. But it also applies to the GM.

If Sandy Alderson doesn’t want to be part of the Mets, then he should go. They’ll get someone else.

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