MLB Trade Deadline: Questions Surrounding the White Sox Players and the Manager

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Looking at the White Sox, the main thing preventing them from making huge changes at the trading deadline is that, objectively, they don’t have many things that other teams would want. Or at least they don’t have many players that teams are going to give anything worthwhile to get.

Jake Peavy, if he was healthy, would attract interest. He’s not. If Peavy returns from his fractured rib and pitches well, he’ll get through waivers in August due to his $14.5 million contract for 2014, so someone would take him if the White Sox pick up a portion of his contract. It’s unlikely but possible. John Danks is still recovering and finding his groove after shoulder surgery. A potential trade chip, Gavin Floyd, is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. No one’s taking Adam Dunn. Someone would take Alex Rios and they’re going to get an overpay for Jesse Crain. Nothing earth-shattering is coming back for any of these players.

The big question is whether they’ll trade Paul Konerko. They could get something for Konerko, but that opens up another issue: how could they make Konerko the player-manager if they trade him?

No. I’m not kidding.

Ken Williams was willing to do anything when he was the everyday GM and now that he’s been moved up to executive VP of baseball and Rick Hahn has taken over as GM, Hahn will take his cue from Williams and listen to whatever is floated. The problem they have now is that there’s really not much of anything to do to improve their fortunes in the near future. Williams was serious when he said he considered Konerko as player-manager prior to hiring Robin Ventura and Ventura is not going to be the White Sox manager for much longer. It’s not because they’re going to fire him, but because he took the job as a “let’s see if I enjoy this” test endeavor and he certainly didn’t sign up for a team that’s going to lose 95 games in 2013 and has a few years of retooling ahead of them. There was talk earlier this year that Ventura wasn’t planning on managing for very long and he sort of “aw shucksed” it as a brush off without a fervent denial when he turned down the club’s offer of a contract extension. He might enjoy managing, being around the players and the competition, but he doesn’t need it and that attitude can tend to get on the players’ nerves. He’s signed through next year, but I think it’s iffy that he manages in 2014.

If Ventura leaves and with Konerko a free agent at the end of the year, I could easily see them pulling the trigger and making Konerko the manager if he retires or player-manager if he wants to do it. It would distract from the retool/rebuild, give Konerko experience in handling a media circus and managing for when the White Sox are ready to contend again because, by then, he’ll almost definitely be retired. There hasn’t been a player-manager since Pete Rose and it would be a juicy story to watch and distract the masses as to how bad the White Sox promise to be for the next several years as they move on from this group and reload.

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The Solution For Brian Cashman’s Tantrums

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Multiple reasons have been floated for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s explosive overreaction to the Alex Rodriguez tweet that he’d been given the go-ahead to play in rehab games by the doctor who performed his hip surgery. Are Cashman and the organization sick of A-Rod and everything surrounding A-Rod? Do they not want him back? Is Cashman tired of answering questions about the latest A-Rod misadventure? Is it all of the above?

Cashman’s response was silly and he apologized for it, but that doesn’t cloud the number of times that the once taciturn Cashman has incrementally come out of the shell of nebbishness in which he once cloaked himself and done so in a clumsy and overtly embarrassing manner to himself and the Yankees. It’s not just the A-Rod incidents, but it’s the way he publicly dared Derek Jeter to leave in a game of chicken that he knew the Yankees would win; it’s the way his personal life became tabloid fodder; and it’s the hardheaded arrogance with which he insisted that his young pitchers be developed to results that have been mediocre (Phil Hughes) to disappointing (Joba Chamberlain) to disastrous (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances).

Cashman’s attitude in press conferences and interviews even comes through when reading his words instead of hearing them: he doesn’t want to be there; he doesn’t want to be doing the interviews; and every time he speaks to the press, he sounds as if he’s either heading for, enduring or just left an exploratory anal examination. (Again, maybe it’s all of the above.)

But the GM of a baseball team has to speak to the press, doesn’t he? So what’s the solution?

Here’s the solution: Promote him.

I’m not talking about giving him points in the team as the A’s ludicrously did with Billy Beane. I’m not talking about him being moved up as a way to get him out of the baseball operations. I’m talking about benefiting him and the club by giving him a break and a change from the job he’s done for so long.

There are two types of promotions. One is when the individual is given an entirely new job and new sets of responsibilities; the other is when the individual has certain responsibilities that he or she doesn’t want to do anymore and no longer has to worry about them, but the other duties performed will essentially be the same. With Cashman, he wouldn’t be titled team president, but he could be named similarly to the titles that Theo Epstein has with the Cubs, Ken Williams has with the White Sox and Jon Daniels has with the Rangers. The change to president of baseball operations would not be made so he’d accumulate more power, but so he wouldn’t have to talk to the media every single day as the upfront voice of the organization. No longer would he run the risk of his frustration boiling over and manifesting itself with inappropriateness as it is on a continual basis now.

No matter what you think of him, Cashman has accomplished far more in his post than either Williams or Daniels have. In fact, he’s accomplished more in the bottom line than Epstein and Beane in spite of their fictional media portrayals as unassailable geniuses. But he’s still basically doing the same job he did when he was hired as GM in 1998. Yes, George Steinbrenner is gone and replaced with the rational Hal Steinbrenner; yes, he’s got more sway than he did then; and yes, he brought the entire baseball operation under his control without the Tampa shadow government, but he’s still the VP and general manager. He still has to do these press conferences and batting practice “chats” where he’s likely to have a fuse worn down to a nub and explode whenever the name A-Rod is mentioned, when he’s asked about what he’s planning to do to make the club better, when he’s asked about the Robinson Cano contract or anything else.

Of course there are other problems associated with the idea. First, current team president Randy Levine might see a Cashman promotion as an usurping of his position and react in a Randy Levine way by saying, “He can’t be the president, I’m the president.” Then slowly rising to a gradual climax with a raised voice, “I’m the president!!!!!” And finally, pounding on his desk with his face turning the color or a ripe eggplant as he strangles himself with his own tie, bellowing at the top of his lungs, “I……AM…..THE….PRES….I….DEEEEEEENNNNNNNTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!”

Jason Zillo would be dutifully standing nearby in sycophantic agreement presented in such a way that he almost appears to believe it, “Yep, he sure is. Randy’s the president.” Adding, “And I’m the gatekeeper,” with a certain smug pride and said in the tone of the child saying, “And I helped,” when his mother made the Stove Top Stuffing.

Would it really affect anyone if Cashman is kicked upstairs so he doesn’t have to endure the drudgery that he’s clearly tired of? If Damon Oppenheimer or Billy Eppler can handle the day-to-day minutiae that comes with being a GM—minutiae that is clearly taking its toll on Cashman—why not make the change? It wouldn’t alter the structure of the baseball operations in any significant way other than giving Cashman a bump that he’s earned after time served and a break from having to look at Joel Sherman and answer his ridiculous questions day after day.

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Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

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You can read the basis of these postings and part I here.

Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch is the epitome of the “do the right thing” owner with all of his sports franchises. He hires people who are both perceived to know and do know what they’re doing and gives them the resources to be successful. With GM Dave Dombrowski, there’s none of the “look how smart I am” pretense in which he wants to win but more than winning, he wants credit for winning and being the architect of the franchise.

Dombrowski is the classic old-school baseball guy who worked his way up organically and didn’t trick anyone with an array of numbers and catchy business-themed buzzwords. Some owners want to hear that stuff and it’s usually either the ruthless corporate types who have no interest in anyone’s feelings and putting out a product that will be both practically successful and aesthetically likable; or a rich guy who didn’t work for his money and is interested in seeing his name in the papers, but doesn’t have the faintest concept into what running a sports franchise is all about and isn’t able to comprehend that you can’t run a baseball team like a corporation and expect it to work.

Ilitch knows and understands this and lets Dombrowski do his job. Dombrowski has built three different clubs to success with the Expos, Marlins and Tigers and had a hand in the early 1980s White Sox who rose to prominence under manager Tony LaRussa. For those who consider Dombrowski a product of Ilitch’s willingness to spend money and little else, it’s simply not true and is only presented as an excuse because he’s not a stat guy. He knows talent, spends money when necessary, but also has an old-school GM’s aggressiveness going after what he wants when others wouldn’t know what they’re getting as evidenced by his under-the-radar trade for Doug Fister. Most people in baseball barely knew who Fister was at the time the Tigers traded for him and the acquisition exemplified Dombrowski’s thinking and decisionmaking as he refused to take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik saying “no” for an answer. The prospects Dombrowski gave up to get Fister haven’t done much for the Mariners and Fister is a solid mid-rotation starter at age 29.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians use the transfer of power approach when they name their GM. John Hart passed his job on to Mark Shapiro and Shapiro moved up to the team presidency and Chris Antonetti took over as GM. This is not a situation where the GM is actually running the whole show. Shapiro may have moved up to a more powerful position above the player personnel fray, but he still has significant input in the club’s construction.

In general when there’s a promotion of this kind, it’s done so that the team president doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day minutiae that the GM has to deal with. I’m talking about press conferences, giving the final nod on the draft, listening to manager/player complaints and other redundant and tiresome exercises that make a GM want to get the promotion (or demotion) in the first place.

The Indians GM job and other front office positions are rarely if ever in jeopardy. It’s understood that there are payroll constraints and Shapiro and company have the freedom to teardown and rebuild as they see fit. This year is different because they hired a pricey name manager in Terry Francona and spent money on players Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and make a bold trade in sending Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Much of this is rumored to be due to owner Larry Dolan wanting to boost the product and attendance to increase the franchise’s sale value and then sell it.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are unique in that owner Jerry Reinsdorf trusts former GM and now Executive V.P. Ken Williams implicitly and lets him do what he wants even if that includes considering making Paul Konerko player/manager prior to hiring an unproven Robin Ventura who had no managerial experienced whatsoever.

Much like the Indians, Williams moved up to a higher executive perch and Rick Hahn took over as the day-to-day GM with Williams maintaining significant influence on the club’s construction. Outsiders rip Williams but he wants to win at the big league level every year and tends to ignore development. If contending is not in the cards, he reacts preemptively and blows it up. Another reason he’s so loathed by the stat person wing is because he scoffs at them with the reality that they haven’t the faintest idea as to what running a club entails, nor does he care about what they say.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are insular and won’t bring in a new GM from the outside who’s going to want to clear out the house of former employees, marginalize longtime implementer of the “Twins way” Tom Kelly, and fire manager Ron Gardenhire. With that in mind, when they demoted Bill Smith from the GM position, they reached into the past for the GM of the club during their annual trips to the post-season, Terry Ryan.

The Twins have a packed farm system and should be back contending in the next couple of years. Ryan is decidedly old-school, has a background in scouting and worked his way up like Dombrowski. He’s willing to listen and discuss his philosophy with the stat people at their conventions, but will continue to be a scouting and “feel” GM as he looks for players that fit into what he, Kelly and Gardenhire prefer rather than someone whose OPS jumps off the page but might not behave in the manner the Twins want their players to.

The Twins ownership is one of the wealthiest in sports but there’s a tradeoff with their manner of ownership: they don’t interfere with the baseball people, but they don’t give them any more money than is within the budget. They treat it like a business. There are probably more benefits to that than negatives since they’re willing to have a $100+ million payroll and aren’t asking Ryan to complete the very difficult task of winning with $60 million or less.

Kansas City Royals

What’s funny about Dayton Moore becoming a punching bag for the Royals horrific backwards streak in which they went from 17-10 to 22-30 is that none of his more vicious critics was saying much of anything when the team was playing well and it looked like Moore’s decision to trade a package led by Wil Myers to the Rays for a package led by James Shields was going to yield the desired result.

Moore learned as an assistant to John Schuerholz and played a significant role in the Braves having a fertile farm system through the 1990s and early 2000s, but might not be cut out to be a fulltime GM. He’s good at building a farm system and has trouble sprinkling in necessary ingredients to supplement the youngsters on the big league roster.

When Moore was making the rounds as a GM candidate, he almost seemed to be reluctant to take the job. He interviewed with the Red Sox in 2002 and withdrew from consideration after the first interview. He then took the Royals job at mid-season 2006. Perhaps he knew something that those who touted him as a GM candidate didn’t; maybe he was happy as an assistant and didn’t want the scrutiny that comes from being a GM and took it because he was expected to move up to the next level as a GM.

Whatever it was, I think of other GMs and former GMs who had certain attributes to do the job but weren’t cut out to be the guy at the top of the food chain because of the missing—and important—other aspects. Omar Minaya was like that. Minaya is a great judge of talent, can charm the reporters and fans, has a fantastic rapport with the Latin players and can be a convincing salesman. When he was introducing his new free agent signing or acquisition in a big trade, he was great with a big smile and nice suit as a handsome representative for the team. But when there was dirty work to be done like firing his manager, firing an assistant, or answering reporters’ questions regarding a controversy, his shakiness with the English language and propensity to be too nice came to the forefront and he couldn’t do the job effectively.

There’s nothing wrong with being a great assistant when the alternative is being a mediocre-to-bad GM and winding up right back where he or she started from.

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Passionless Managing, Numbers Crunching and Outsiders

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The new managerial template of eschewing experienced minor league managers or veteran big league managers and bringing in the likes of Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura has developed into a two-way street. Teams are making the hires and the managers aren’t fully invested in doing the job, putting forth an almost blasé sense of, “Oh, I’ll manage the team if that’s what your really want me to do until something better comes along.”

According to Matheny’s own account during the revelation of his financial issues, he had no intention of returning to the dugout if he didn’t have to find work. Intentional or not, Matheny saying that he wouldn’t be managing had he not lost all his money in real estate came across as arrogant and condescending. Considering that everything the Cardinals accomplished last season had more to do with the foundation left by Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan than with Matheny, it’s not the right attitude to have.

In a similar vein, Ventura turned down a contract extension because he wasn’t sure how long he wanted to manage. For a lifer such as Jim Leyland and Terry Francona, this would be totally foreign tack for a relatively young man such as the 45-year-old Ventura. Lifers manage, of course, for the money. They also love the competition and, in spite of the success they’ve had, there’s a certain amount of insecurity that comes from the journeyman way they were reared in baseball. Leyland rode minor league buses forever as a player and manager, got his chance as a coach with LaRussa, then began his long ride between Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. He spent several years as a semi-retired adviser/observer insisting he was done managing, then returned to take over the Tigers in 2006 and has been there ever since. With all he’s accomplished and his resume, there’s still regular talk that his job is on the line.

Francona is fending off the perception that his two championships managing the Red Sox were a byproduct of the organization and he was an on-field functionary. As was detailed in his new book (my review is here), the reputation-bashing he endured when he left Boston was such that it could have festered into him becoming toxic to other clubs. I believe he took the Indians job in large part to put that talk to rest.

Both Matheny and Ventura were old-school as players, but this new school of managing is something that front office people have to decide is worth it.

The tree of coaches and managers has branches that sometimes grow in strange ways. In football, Bill Parcells was known as much for his brilliance as his constant vacillation, threats of retirement and resignations only to rise again in a different location. Two of his most successful assistants—Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin—have been on the sidelines constantly without needing a break due to burnout, failing health or exhaustion. Some clubs prefer short-term contracts with their managers and coaches and can live with not knowing one day to the next whether they’re going to stay or go. Others want a full commitment. I believe it helps the organization to have a coach/manager who wants to be there and has a passion for doing the job.

Passion. It must be there for long-term success. The job isn’t a hobby or a pleasant and brief diversion like going to the park and having a picnic. As Bill James said in his guest appearance on The Simpsons, “I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes.” It’s the truth. With the new age people like Jeff Luhnow running the Astros like an ambitious startup, is there a love for the game or is it something they enjoy and see as a challenge, but don’t have a deep wellspring of passion for?

I don’t get the sense of passion from Matheny or Ventura. With Ventura, he’s so laid back that there are times that he looks like he needs to have a mirror placed under his nose to see if he’s still breathing. The White Sox functioned for so long under the volcanic Ozzie Guillen, that they sought someone who wasn’t going to create a crisis every time he opened his mouth. That’s exactly what they—from GM Ken Williams on through the coaches and players—needed. By 2014, Ventura might not have a choice in staying or going if the team looks disinterested and needs a spark.

Some veteran managers use their growing reputations and success to exact some revenge for years of subservience. Joe Torre and Francona took short money contracts to get their opportunities with the Yankees and Red Sox and when the time came to get paid and accumulate say-so as to the construction of their clubs—no rebuilding projects for them anymore—they took them.

We can debate the baseball qualifications and merits of hiring outsiders to work in front offices or run a baseball team. Many of these individuals are people with degrees from impressive universities who never picked up a ball themselves and haven’t the faintest idea about the social hierarchy and nuance necessary to handle a big league clubhouse or put a cohesive club together not just on the field, but off it as well.

Crunching numbers isn’t analysis and is decidedly not all there is to running a baseball team, nor the final word in determining the future. This is how we end up with the Pirates’ assistant Kyle Stark living out his tough guy fantasies by entreating his minor league players to follow Navy SEALs training techniques and telling them to think like a Hell’s Angel without understanding what that truly entails. It’s how insecure “analysts” such as Keith Law continually try to find excuses for the Orioles’ success in 2012 and why he and other “experts” were “right” in spirit about them having a prototypically terrible Orioles year, but the Orioles made up for their lack of talent with luck. Rather than simply enjoying an unexpected rise for a historic franchise as a baseball fan would, it turns into an egocentric treatise to bolster one’s own credentials and dissect why it’s not “real.” Is it necessary to find a “why” to justify the Orioles being lucky complete with turning one’s nose up in a pompous, snobby, sighing and eye-rolling dismissiveness?

Matheny and Ventura are running toward the mistaken path that other coaches and managers have taken in assuming that because they did what can be perceived as a good job, that they’ll always have another opportunity to manage if they need it. It’s not the case. The attitude of “I’m doing you a favor by being here” only lasts for so long. Perhaps Ventura doesn’t need to manage or to have the job, but with Matheny’s financial plight now known, he does need the job, making that attitude worse.

As Parcells repeatedly showed, it’s a tradeoff to take his ambiguity from one year to the next to have his coaching expertise. With Ventura and Matheny, it can be seen as an advantage to have a replaceable overseer rather than a difficult and well-compensated manager with a track record like LaRussa. Whether they realize that it won’t cost much to fire them is the question. Maybe Matheny will think about that if the transition from the veterans that performed under LaRussa and maintained that performance under Matheny evolves into youngsters who must to be nurtured and guided with strategies a legitimate manager must impart. His strategic work was wanting in 2012 even though the Cardinals made it to game 7 of the NLCS. If it becomes clear that the Cardinals don’t need him, that flippancy will dissolve, but it might be too late. Front offices will tolerate it while it’s working. When it’s not, they won’t. It could come back to haunt them. When they realize the job wasn’t such a bad deal after all, it will no longer be theirs to keep at their discretion.

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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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General Manager is Not a Baseball Job, it’s a Political Office

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Fans of the Mariners should be very afraid if this story from Jon Paul Morosi is true.

Truth is, of course, relative. Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik might be following orders from ownership that Ichiro Suzuki is staying with the club no matter what; it might be that he’s saying things he knows aren’t true to keep the media sharks from following him and Ichiro around to ask what’s going to happen; or he could actually plan to keep a declining and old player as a centerpiece of his club on the field and in the lineup. In any case, it’s frightening and piggybacks on the Geoff Baker story from last week that said the Mariners have no intention of contending before 2015.

It’s stunning how the stat people who held Zduriencik as a totem for their beliefs abandoned him. No longer is he referred to as a “truly Amazin’ exec” who worked his way up through baseball in scouting and has embraced advanced stats to build his team. There’s no hope if they intend to move forward with Ichiro. Period.

All of this highlights the difficulty in being a GM in today’s game. Gone are the days when the name of the GM was only known because George Steinbrenner had just fired him. Do you know, without looking, who the GM of the Earl Weaver Orioles was? Or the “We Are Family” Pirates? Or the Red Sox in the 1970s?

No, you don’t. But if you don’t know the names of the GMs in today’s game then you’re not a real fan. It’s not a job anymore, it’s a political office. Not everyone is cut out to be a politician and by now Zduriencik is like a hamster running on a treadmill in some rich guy’s office. If it’s true that he believes Ichiro is still a “franchise player” then he should be fired.

If it’s true that upper management is telling him that Ichiro stays no matter what, he needs to say enough already with the interference and that he must be allowed to run the team correctly if he’s going to stay in the job.

Let’s say that he’s trying to take pressure off of Ichiro and the organization. If that’s the case, then he needs to learn to say the words, “We’ll address that at the end of the season but we have great respect for what Ichiro has accomplished here.”

Now if they do anything with Ichiro other than bring him back, Zduriencik’s inability to effectively play the game of lying without lying is even more reason why he shouldn’t be a GM.

There are the typical GMs and ex-GMs who are treated as idiots by outsiders who haven’t the faintest idea of how difficult a job it truly is. Dayton Moore is great at building farm systems but has proven wanting in making trades and signing free agents. Jon Daniels isn’t that far away from being considered an idiot after trading Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Ken Williams—who’s won a World Series—had to endure all sorts of absurd criticisms for his management style last winter and now has a team in first place. And like a professional wrestler whose ring persona alternates from “heel” to “face” depending on what the company needs and which feud would bring in the most pay-per-view purchases, Billy Beane has the Moneyball “genius” rhetoric attached to him again because some of the young players he acquired last winter are playing well and manager Bob Melvin has the Athletics performing five miles over their heads.

Again, in spite of the Moneyball strategy no longer existing in the form in which it was presented, Beane is serving as validation for numbers above all else, reality be damned.

Which is it? Are they geniuses? Are they idiots? Are they politicians? Are they people trying to do a job that’s become impossible to do without angering someone?

Do you know?

What makes it worse is the “someones” they’re angering are either using them for personal interests or don’t have the first clue as to what they’re talking about.

If Jeff Luhnow thought he’d be safe from their wrath—unleashed behind the safety and anonymity of computer screens—he learned pretty quickly that he wasn’t. The idea of, “they believe what I believe” didn’t protect him from the poisonous barbs and accusations of betrayal from the everyday readers of Fangraphs when he chose to make Brett Myers his closer. Even the paper thin-skinned armchairiest of armchair experts, Keith Law, to whom Luhnow supposedly offered a job (although I don’t really believe he did) went after his would-be boss questioning the decision.

It’s easy to criticize when not responsible for the organization; when there’s no accountability and one has the option of never admitting they’re wrong about anything as a means to bolster credibility. This, in reality, does nothing other than display one’s weaknesses and lack of confidence. It’s no badge of honor to never make a mistake.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to be the “I’d do” guy. I’d do this. I’d do that. But would they “do” what they say they’d do? Or would they want to quit after one day? After one negative column from a former friend? After understanding that being a GM isn’t about making trades, signing players and being a hero, but about drudgery and having to use ambiguous phrasing to keep from saying anything at all?

Do you think a GM or an inside baseball person wants to hear criticisms from the likes of Joe Sheehan? From Law? From Joel Sherman? Could these media experts handle the job and the savagery to which a GM in today’s game is subjected every…single…day? They’d curl into the fetal position and cry.

I’d never, ever last more than a week as a GM because: A) I don’t have the patience to answer ridiculous and repetitive questions from reporters; B) I can’t play the game of giving nuggets that I know are lies or exaggerations to media outlets and bloggers in order to maintain a solid relationship with them and exchange splashy headlines for the stuff I want out there for my own benefit; and C) I’m incapable of placating an owner or boss to the degree where I lose credibility.

Whichever one Zduriencik is doing is grounds for a change.

There comes a time when enough’s enough and this Ichiro nonsense, to me, is it.

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American League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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I’m going division by division. This morning I went through the AL East. Now it’s time for the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re buyers and should be, but they need to do it within reason.

They’ve already made one move to fill a hole by getting Kevin Youkilis essentially for nothing, they need a starting pitcher and some bullpen help.

Could they cobble together the prospects to get a Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza? Probably. Should they? Probably not. But GM Ken Williams is going to do what he’s going to do and won’t apologize nor backtrack. They’ve played this well up to this point with John Danks and Philip Humber injured.

I would tweak the bullpen with a Brandon League, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt or Francisco Rodriguez if he comes available; plus another lefty like Joe Thatcher. The best improvements to the club will be if Danks and Humber come back effectively and if Alexei Ramirez starts hitting. That’s more important than any acquisition they could make. A desperation trade would be counterproductive.

Cleveland Indians

They need a bat at first base, the outfield or at DH. I’d leave the pitching alone unless they can get Ryan Dempster at a reasonable price. Yes, Travis Hafner’s off the disabled list, but judging from history he’ll be back on it soon enough. Neither of their veteran acquisitions—Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman—have hit; they can forget about getting anything from Grady Sizemore.

They could use a lefty out of the bullpen and should make a move on the just released Brian Fuentes. For a bat, Carlos Quentin is out there. If the Cubs will pay his whole salary, they might want to take a look at Alfonso Soriano. At the very least he’d hit them some homers. Ty Wigginton would be a useful and cheap extra bat.

If they’re inclined, they could craft an offer for Justin Upton and wait to see if B.J. Upton comes available.

Detroit Tigers

The second they signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, the Tigers were all-in to win now. They need a starting pitcher and while I wouldn’t trade Jacob Turner, that’s probably what’s going to have to happen to get one of the big names out there, Hamels, Greinke and Garza. I have a feeling that Placido Polanco is going to be playing second base for the Tigers before the end of July.

A lot will depend on how realistic it is to pin their needs for a bat on Victor Martinez getting back from knee surgery well before he was expected to.

The Tigers can still salvage their season and make the playoffs. There’s no dominant team in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals

A couple of weeks ago I asked why they would be selling when they were only 5 games out of first place and had played well since a rancid start. Now they’re 9 ½ games out of first place and are said to be willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton but won’t give him away. They have players who have use like Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and Jose Mijares.

They should get what they can for Mijares and stay where they are, giving the young players a chance to right the ship. This can still be a positive season for the Royals.

Minnesota Twins

They need to sell some of the key pieces from their long run in dominating the division. That means Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano. I still think Morneau winds up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Liriano is going to be in heavy demand for multiple teams as a starter or reliever. Matt Capps will wind up getting traded somewhere maybe as part of a Morneau to the Dodgers deal.

I would not trade Denard Span.

If Carl Pavano returns and shows himself healthy, he’ll get through waivers in August and teams will need a body with a functioning arm. I suppose Pavano qualifies in that respect. Sort of.

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Surprise Buyers—American League

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Let’s look at some teams that are unexpectedly hovering around contention, what they need and who they should pursue.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles could use a starting pitcher and a bat (or two). One of the bats has to be able to play the outfield competently.

Dan Duquette is looking pretty smart for his under-the-radar off-season maneuvers getting Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom and Wei-Yin Chen. He’s not going to gut the system for a big name should one come available, nor should he.

Ryan Dempster is the type of middling pitcher they should pursue. Matt Garza can be had. Cole Hamels isn’t worth the cost for a rental unless they know they’re going to sign him.

Jim Thome has been mentioned as a DH option and he’d provide an offensive boost on the field and would be a stabilizing, quietly strong veteran leader off the field.

Carlos Lee is available from the Astros; if the Cubs are willing to give them Alfonso Soriano for a moderate prospect and pay his salary, the change to a club in the pennant race could really wake up his bat—and he’s been hitting homers lately anyway.

Carlos Quentin is on the block from the Padres.

Chicago White Sox

It was supposed to be a bridge year for the White Sox with a new manager, Robin Ventura and an altered configuration and strategy. But they’ve taken advantage of a mediocre AL Central and are in first place.

They could use a starting pitcher and if they’re still hovering around the top of the division and Wild Card at the deadline, GM Ken Williams is going to go for a big name—that means Hamels or Garza.

For the bullpen they could pursue Huston Street (who I’m not a fan of), Brett Myers, Brandon League or Grant Balfour.

Cleveland Indians

It’s time to forget about Grady Sizemore and to not expect any long term health from Travis Hafner when he returns.

They need a bat that can play centerfield.

Shane Victorino is a pending free agent and the Phillies are soon going to be teetering on holding out for the return of their stars or accepting that this isn’t their season and moving forward for 2013.

Chase Headley would be an upgrade over journeyman Jack Hannahan at third base; he can also play the outfield and first base.

Casey Kotchman has been a disaster at first base. I wouldn’t give up much to get Carlos Lee, but I’d take him.

The Indians’ starting pitching isn’t impressive statistically, but there’s enough there to wait without overspending on an outsider.

They could use a bullpen arm or two and should check with the Padres on Street and the Rockies on bringing Rafael Betancourt back to Cleveland.

Kansas City Royals

What’s with all this talk of the Royals selling? They’re 5 ½ games out of first place.

Ravaged by injuries to their starting rotation, they need arms. They have the prospects to do something major like bringing Zack Greinke back. They have the money to sign him long term.

On the surface, they could use a power bat but they just got Salvador Perez back and there’s reason to believe that they have enough pop if Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer start hitting the ball out of the park.

I wouldn’t go too crazy trying to win now, but I’d explore what’s out there to improve in the short and long terms.

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Are The White Sox For Real?

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The White Sox are 27-22, have won 6 straight, are ½ game out of first place and are one of the bigger surprises in baseball. They made wholesale changes this past winter and hired a neophyte manager, Robin Ventura. They put forth the pretense of a rebuilding project when they dealt away Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos and it didn’t appear that the White Sox were expecting to contend in 2012. GM Ken Williams vacillated on his statements implying that he was clearing out the house. He kept veteran A.J. Pierzynski; signed lefty John Danks to a contract extension after fielding trade offers for him; and resisted inquiries on Gavin Floyd.

They didn’t define what they were doing in the off-season and as a result, we don’t know what they are in-season.

Are they a .500 team? Are they a contender? Are they “open for business” either way as Williams said last Fall?

I don’t think they know. I think they’re waiting to see where they are by July before committing one way or the other.

Jake Peavy is having a brilliant comeback season after an injury-ravaged tenure as a White Sox. He has a contract option for 2013 at $22 million with a $4 million buyout. The White Sox could opt to keep him for 2013, trade him at the deadline or in the winter or simply decline the option.

Adam Dunn has reverted into being Adam Dunn with home runs, walks and strikeouts after a rough transition and profoundly bad luck in 2011.

Their defense has been surprisingly good following years of neglect by the front office.

They might be better than predicted.

But contenders?

That’s still up in the air.

Is Paul Konerko going to hit .380? To have an on base percentage of nearly .470? Konerko’s a fine hitter and leader and is making a strong Hall of Fame case with his late-career production, but he’ll be back down to a .295/.370/.520 slash line with 30-35 homers by the time the season’s over. That won’t make up for the dead spots in the lineup they’re carrying at second and third base.

It comes down to what’s real. Is this (.224/.282/.364 with 5 homers) the real Gordon Beckham or is he the hitter he was as a rookie in 2009 when he was a budding star? Given that he’s been rapidly declining since 2010, I’d say this is it.

Will Peavy keep up his work? Will Pierzynski spend the whole season batting above .300? Can Chris Sale maintain his stamina and excellence that resulted in 15 strikeouts last night after being a reliever in his first two big league seasons? What will Danks contribute when he returns from a shoulder injury?

They’re on their second closer in Addison Reed after Hector Santiago flunked out of the role. There were even a brief several days when it was said that Sale was moving back to the bullpen.

We don’t know what they are. They don’t know what they are.

There are teams like the Yankees and Angels for whom we can study history and the backs of the bubblegum cards and reasonably extrapolate that for their name players, the struggles and successes of the present won’t continue into the future. Then there are teams like the White Sox for whom the current results are unsustainable.

Williams is always aggressive, but whether he’s aggressive to add or subtract will depend on how his team is playing at that moment. They’re not particularly good, but they’re not particularly bad either. It’s the undefined teams that have to come to that determination regardless of fan/media demands. It’s not as simple as it looks. Williams is fond of making bold moves that generally ignoring conventional wisdom. In the case of the 2012 White Sox, the bold move might be to stand pat. They don’t have many prospects to deal and the veteran players they’d like to dump could help them more as White Sox than they would as trade bait.

It’s not easy, but it’s smarter to stay where they are and hope they maintain their unlikely spurt into contention.

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Crippled Central

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In the past week two of the contending teams in the American League Central suffered losses of different kinds. The Tigers will be without DH Victor Martinez for the entire season after he tore a ligament in his knee, supposedly while training; the Indians have no idea when or if they’ll have Fausto Carmona AKA Roberto Hernandez Heredia for 2012 after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic for using a false name.

Where does this leave the division now that two teams are already compromised a month before spring training?

There’s an opening for every team to try and sneak their way to the top. They all have an argument as to why they shouldn’t be discounted as contenders and drastic flaws that would render them obsolete if they were in the AL and NL East as well as the AL West.

But they’re in the AL Central, an expanse of possibility.

The Twins are trying to recover from a 99-loss 2011 and while Terry Ryan has taken steps to get back to doing things the “Twins Way”, their starting pitching is, at best, mediocre and they haven’t repaired the bullpen to counteract that starting pitching and get back to their strategic template during their good years of competent starters and a deep, diverse corps of relievers.

The Tigers and Indians can hit and they’ve made incremental improvements with Octavio Dotel bolstering the Tigers bullpen and Derek Lowe joining the Indians as a cheap, innings-eater who was supposed to slide into the rotation behind Ubaldo JimenezJustin Masterson and Carmona.

But the loss of Martinez hurts the Tigers badly and Carmona is no longer Carmona.

Those that think the White Sox are going to be horrendous are wrong. Ken Williams is seemingly vacillating on how to move forward with a retooling and is straddling the line in an indecisive manner. A neophyte manager Robin Ventura, no closer and questionable offense are secondary to a division that might only take 85 wins to make the playoffs. Jake Peavy is in his contract year and if their starting pitching holds up, they’ll be hovering around contention.

Given this turn of events, the one team that should take a step back and reconsider their strategy of patience is the Royals. No, they’re not particularly good and the comparisons to the Rays of 2008 ignores that the Rays had more talent and a competent front office when it came to making big league acquisitions. As much as the Dayton Moore-led Royals have accumulated talent throughout the system, their decisions on which established big leaguers to pursue and retain have been bewildering.

That excess minor league talent could get them what they need: a name starting pitcher who’ll give them 200 innings. They also have some money to spend.

Matt Garza is available via trade. Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson are floating around in free agency looking for work.

If the Royals can get one or even two of them, they could vault right to the top of a weak division.

The key for a club making the innocent climb and building through homegrown talent and selective free agents is to know when to go for the deep strike.

Considering this week’s turn of events, the Royals should think very hard about seizing the opportunity and going for it now.

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