The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part III—Sidelights

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Let’s look at the the Marlins-Blue Jays trade from the perspective of those affected by it, positively or negatively, and those who insert themselves into it.

Social media experts and critics

The self-proclaimed experts on social media reacted with shock and disdain not only that the Marlins did this, but that they didn’t get Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the deal as if they knew who he was. He’s a recognizable name to them and nothing more; if they did see him, the vast majority of them wouldn’t know what they were looking at, nor would they be able to interpret his statistics to determine how truly viable a prospect he is. Perhaps the Marlins asked for him and the Blue Jays said no; perhaps the Blue Jays preferred the lower level players they got in the deal; or maybe the Marlins are happy with the young catcher Rob Brantly whom they acquired from the Tigers in the trade that also netted them Jacob Turner in exchange for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

To a lesser degree, it falls in line with fans watching games and reacting to strategies with descriptive histrionics like, “*FACEPALM*” when Jim Leyland plays Delmon Young regularly; or Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild choose leave Boone Logan in to pitch to a righty; or during the NFL draft when a guy sitting on his couch wearing his team’s jersey declares that he’d take Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck and throws a fit when the opposite happens—the people actually doing the jobs know more than you do. For the guy on his couch, it’s a diversion; for the ones running the clubs, if they don’t make the correct (or at least explainable) decision, they’re going to get fired.

The media and the Marlins

The glaring response amid the outcry came from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Unlike the Red Sox-Dodgers trade when Sherman made a fool of himself by turning that blockbuster salary dump by the Red Sox into another indictment of the Mets, he actually made some legitimate points with the following:

Yet this was a deconstruction the Marlins needed to enact. Their roster, as constructed, was a science project gone wrong. Now they have created a layer of young talent with all of these trades — in this latest deal, executives particularly like center fielder Jake Marisnick (some Jayson Werth comps) and lefty Justin Nicolino, and anyone who saw Henderson Alvarez pitch against the Yankees knows he has a big arm.

How much of this is based on deeply held beliefs and how much is another, more subtle shot at the Mets to be true to his narrative is known only to Sherman, but given his history it’s a contrarian viewpoint with a winking dig at the Mets more than a true belief that the Marlins did the right thing. But the fact remains that, overall, he’s right. They did do the right thing.

No one with a brain is shocked by this Marlins housecleaning

Ignoring the litany of lies and managers hired and fired by Jeffrey Loria, that the Marlins gave heavily backloaded contracts to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle made them mid-season trade candidates in 2013 since their escalators kicked in by 2014. They chose to trade them now rather than wait and see. John Buck and Josh Johnson are both free agents after the 2013 season. Buck isn’t very good and Johnson was going to cost a fortune to re-sign. The charade of being built for the long haul was obvious with the Marlins from the start. The players knew what they were walking into when they didn’t get the valuable no-trade clauses and received guaranteed money they probably wouldn’t get elsewhere in exchange for the likelihood of being sent to a locale they would not have selected if they’d had a choice. Buehrle and Reyes are going to get paid; Johnson, if healthy, will receive a massive contract for his services.

The perception of chicanery and Loria’s blatant disregard for anyone other than Loria is what’s grating the masses. It would’ve been more palatable for observers—chief among them the politicians in Miami who pushed through the stadium deal and baseball itself—had the Marlins tried to win in 2013, but rather than further the sham, they pulled the trigger now. That it’s going to make/save more money for Loria is part of the equation.

The Marlins baseball people have always gotten the right names in their housecleanings. In some cases, it succeeded when they received Hanley Ramirez and Sanchez for Josh Beckett; in others, it didn’t as they received Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as the centerpieces for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is the risk when trading for prospects. Getting talent is controllable; developing that talent is the variable. The Marlins foundation is young, cheap and quite good once we get past the messy way in which it was laid.

The rest of baseball

The balance of power has shifted drastically. The NL East was a monster before the 2012 season started, but the Phillies age caught up to them; the Mets weren’t as bad as expected; the Nationals took their leap faster than most anticipated; and the Marlins were a disaster. Now that they’ve gutted the place, the Marlins are widely expected to be a punching bag in 2013, but truth be told with a group of young players fighting for playing time and jobs, they’ll be at least as competitive as the 69-93 apathy-tinged monstrosity that played out the string for most of the summer.

The American League saw the balance of power shift East to West. While it was supposed to be a two-team race for supremacy between the Angels and Rangers, the Athletics stunned both by winning the division. The Mariners young pitching and money to spend will make them a darkhorse in 2013. The Tigers just signed Torii Hunter for their star-studded lineup. There’s no longer a waltz into the playoffs for 2-3 teams from the AL East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in moderate to severe disarray with the Yankees having limited money to spend and now three teams in their division that have a rightful claim to being better than they are. The Red Sox purge excised the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. At the time it was an acknowledgement that the construction of the team wasn’t going to work and they intended to start over. It’s eerily similar to the situation the Marlins found themselves in, but the Marlins didn’t give it another try as the Red Sox did following their winter of 2010 spending spree and subsequent 2011 failure, and the Red Sox are going to take the money they saved and put it back into the team while the Marlins aren’t.

The Yankees have done nothing thus far in the winter and are trapped with contracts like that of Alex Rodriguez clogging up their arteries. Brian Cashman is getting what he wanted and learning that being the would-be genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He chafed at the notion that the Yankees teams he helped build were creatures of financial might and longed to be seen in the industry in the category of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as architects of winning franchises under a budget and with intelligent acquisitions rather than raiders of resources for those that could no longer afford them. Well, he’s getting what he wanted and the results are not good. Under the mandate of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014, he can’t take on the contracts that the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos just did. The pitchers he’d hoped to develop to provide low-cost production have either been mediocre or busts entirely. They’re waiting and hoping that Andy Pettitte returns and has another year in him; that Derek Jeter can recover from his ankle injury; that they get something from A-Rod; that Mariano Rivera can rebound from knee surgery at age 43; that Hiroki Kuroda will take a one-year deal to come back (he won’t); that they get something from Michael Pineda.

Do you really expect all of this to happen in a division made even tougher by the Blue Jays’ trades; the Orioles’ improvement; the Rays’ talent; and the Red Sox money to spend and determination to get back to their basics? The Yankees are in a worse position than the Marlins and even the Phillies were because if the season is spiraling in July of 2013, they’ll be trapped by those contracts and the fan anger that they won’t be able to make those conceding trades for the future. This is the team they have and the division they’re in and neither bode well.

Cashman wanted it and he got it. He’s so arrogant that it’s doubtful that he regrets it, but he should. And he will.

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American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Let’s take a look at some American League teams that have unexpectedly struggled or made ghastly blunders that would normally elicit a reaction from ownerships.

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote what I’d been thinking about a George Steinbrenner missive being issued following Michael Pineda’s injury.

I’m not going to give Cashman as hard a time as others did for letting Bartolo Colon go and keeping Freddy Garcia—neither could’ve been expected to replicate anything close to what they did last season—but his other pitching mishaps have been horrific. As much of a joke as Steinbrenner was for his instantaneous and combustible temper tantrums, many times he had a right to be angry.

Beyond Cashman, if the Boss was still around, Larry Rothschild would be in the crosshairs for what’s gone wrong with Phil Hughes.

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

There’s really not much they can do. Having already bounced Garcia from the rotation in favor of David Phelps, Hughes has to improve or he’ll be in the bullpen or minor leagues when Andy Pettitte is set to return to the majors.

What will be done?

Hal Steinbrenner will be secretive and deliberate; Hank will be kept away from the telephone. Cashman will continue to spin doctor and “take responsibility” by saying how “devastated” he is about Pineda.

Devastated? Really?

Garcia will be kept around just in case and Hughes is going to wind up being sent to the minors.

The Boss would’ve made Cashman take responsibility in a way consistent with what Madden suggested and he wouldn’t have been out of line in doing so.

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

The best things that could’ve happened to the Red Sox were the Sunday night rainout of the game against the Yankees and going on the road to play the bad Twins and mediocre White Sox. The ship has been righted to a certain degree.

For all the love doled out to departed GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, ownership—John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino—have been left to clean up the mess. Regardless of what you think of Lucchino’s insinuating himself into the baseball operations as he has, you can’t absolve Epstein and Francona. Epstein saddled the club with the contracts of John Lackey and Carl Crawford; Francona’s lax discipline as manager and passive aggressiveness from the broadcast booth as the team spiraled out of the gate gave a sense of the former manager exacting revenge on the franchise that gave him a job with a team ready-built for success when no one else would’ve.

What should be done?

A desperate trade would only make matters worse. There’s no one to fire. They have to wait and hope. Making a final decision with Daniel Bard and sticking to it would end speculation on the pitcher’s role.

What will be done?

They’ll wait it out. Had they continued losing following the series against the Yankees, they might’ve done something drastic like firing Bobby Valentine even though it’s not all his fault. Their winning streak has given them breathing room.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

Arte Moreno has been a great owner. He’s let his baseball people run the club and hasn’t interfered. They have everything they ask for and more.

This past winter, he spent an uncharacteristic amount of money to address the offensive woes from 2011 with Albert Pujols and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen’s missteps have been magnified because set-up man Hisanori Takahashi and closer Jordan Walden have been horrible.

That’s not to say they’d be that much better with a more proven closer than the deposed Walden. In retrospect, they were lucky they didn’t sign Ryan Madson or trade for Andrew Bailey.

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

When an owner throws that amount of guaranteed money at his roster, he has a right to expect more than 7-15 and 9 games out of first place before April is over.

What should be done?

The Angels released Bobby Abreu on Friday and recalled Mike Trout. They demoted Walden from the closer’s role in favor of Scott Downs.

Apart from waiting for Pujols to start hitting and perhaps dumping Vernon Wells, there’s little else of note they can try.

What will be done?

If Moreno were a capricious, “blame someone for the sake of blaming them” type, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz would have been fired a week ago and perhaps first base coach Alfredo Griffin for good measure.

He’s not a quick trigger owner, but if they’re not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

It could get ugly.

As of right now, they’ll see if the jettisoning of Abreu, the insertion of Trout and the new closer will help. With Moreno, they have more time than most clubs would, but that doesn’t mean they have forever.

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The National League will be posted later and yes, that does mean I’ll be talking about the Marlins.

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A.J. Burnett’s Yankees Epitaph

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There are some pitchers who need to be left alone.

Because pitching coaches are pitching coaches, they feel the need to jump in whenever they see something amiss or the results are lacking and adhere to mandate of “do something” even if there’s really nothing to be done other than letting the pitcher try to straighten himself out or wait for him to come and ask for help.

Upon his arrival at Pirates’ camp, A.J. Burnett made a few comments about his time with the Yankees that have been taken as criticisms of the Yankee organization.

Here’s Burnett’s quote from this piece in the Washington Post:

“I let a few too many people tinker with me, maybe,” Burnett said. “When you let that happen, you start doubting yourself sometimes. You wonder, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’ and things like that. In ‘09, nobody messed with me. I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around, close my eyes and pitch upside down. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening.”

There are absolutely pitchers who have to be hounded; some have to be cajoled; others need to be left alone. It’s up to the individual pitching coach to gauge and determine how best to unlock the potential and get the pitcher to be the best he can be or to find a way for him to get hitters out regardless of stuff.

Earl Weaver and his pitching coaches George Bamberger and Ray Miller were great at that. Weaver would spot a flaw in a pitcher, whether it was a pitch he shouldn’t be throwing or a pitch he should throw and didn’t have in his repertoire, and he’d have his pitching coach instruct him on how to throw it; if the pitcher resisted, Weaver would ask him if he wanted to be a loser all his life—but he only intervened as the enforcer and left the tactical and mechanical work to the pitching coaches.

It worked with Mike Torrez, Steve Stone and Ross Grimsley among others.

Greg Maddux openly says that Dick Pole was the pitching coach who influenced him most on his way up to the big leagues, but Pole has bounced from team to team because he insinuates himself on the manager. Some managers don’t like that.

So there’s a limit to what the pitching coach can do and much of it is contingent on the manager and the pitchers.

I’m not blaming Joe Girardi, Dave Eiland, Larry Rothschild, Mike Harkey or any of the other Yankees’ staff members for Burnett’s complaints, but because Burnett struggled with inconsistency for much of his time as a Yankee and again proved why he’s basically a .500 pitcher in spite of having all-world stuff, there could be something to Burnett’s statements. It could be that the Yankees should’ve just tossed their hands in the air and let him be rather than immediately fiddle with him. They tried everything else.

As for Burnett, if this was a problem, he should’ve expressed it earlier rather than be polite and incorporate every little suggestion he received. Tom Seaver pushed back if his pitching coaches and catchers tried to interfere with him when he felt strongly about something. Perhaps Burnett’s lack of focus and lapses in competitiveness stem from his laid back personality. If he were a little more feisty, he and the Yankees might’ve been a lot better off.

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Manager Of The Year Cannibalism

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The Manager of the Year voting is the most imprecise of all the MLB awards. There are no stats for managers so it’s a complete judgment call. The majority of the time, it goes to the manager whose team overachieves and not the manager who does the best job.

Naturally it’s subjective, but the end result winds up being cannibalistic. This is a convenient comparison to make since most of the mainstream writers appear to be the evil and unwanted offspring of the C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers).

Joe Maddon deserved to win the Manager of the Year award in the American League, but had his Rays not had that searing hot streak over the last month of the season to overtake the Red Sox for the Wild Card, my pick would’ve been Joe Girardi of the Yankees.

You can see my award winners here.

Girardi did an underappreciated and fantastic job with the Yankees this season, but came in fifth.

His pitching staff was short in the starting rotation and he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild got cheap, above-and-beyond production out of veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia; they nursed along a rookie, Ivan Nova; and endured A.J. Burnett without strangling him. In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano was an injured and terribly performing nuisance; and Pedro Feliciano never threw a pitch for the team.

Giradi also navigated the difficulties of a declining megastar—Alex Rodriguez; a pair of aging and record-setting stars—Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter; and a near implosive collision with an irascible borderline Hall of Fame catcher with whom Girardi always had and presumably always will have a contentious relationship, Jorge Posada.

He handled it all and brought the Yankees home at 97 wins and an unexpected division title.

Because the Yankees have a $200 million payroll, there’s little attention given to the job the manager does; he gets the blame when things go wrong and nearly no credit when things go right.

This is where the cannibalism comes in.

Because the Rays lost their entire bullpen from a year ago; Matt Garza was traded; Carlos Pena departed as a free agent; and Manny Ramirez retired early in the season, Maddon had a lot on his desk to sift through and maintain respectability. He did.

The media at large tends to judge a manager on how the team was expected to perform…in the view of the media.

So if a voting writer picks the Yankees to win the division and they do, then Girardi isn’t going to get the credit for how it was achieved.

It’s a self-appraisal that has nothing to do with the manager’s work.

And it’s not the way to vote.

But what can you expect from a C.H.U.D.?

I suggest you be happy that they don’t drool on you and hope for the best.

Below is the C.H.U.D. trailer. The movie looks pretty bad, but then, so are most mainstream writers.

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George Steinbrenner’s A.J. Burnett Missive From Beyond The Grave

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Is Billy Connors still a Yankees employee?

Or did his role as the organizational “pitching guru”—real or imagined though it may have been—die with George Stienbrenner?

One of the problems with the top down management style in which the GM is the boss is that there’s a continuity of strategy that can occasionally be debilitating when a different approach is needed.

Sometimes friction and undermining—on a limited basis—is useful.

Brian Cashman is in charge of the Yankees baseball operation…mostly. This holds true except when Randy Levine decides he knows more than Cashman does and signs a player like Rafael Soriano whom Cashman wanted no part of.

With that “almost” in charge responsibility comes the conscious decision to trust his manager and pitching coach in handling whatever comes up with the pitchers. That means manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are entrusted with deciding what to do and how to fix—if he’s fixable—A.J. Burnett.

I don’t know what to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees are going to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees should or can do with Burnett. Having not seen his latest hideous start in which he allowed 9 runs in five innings to the Orioles, I can only go by the boxscore.

But that’s enough.

9 hits, 9 earned runs, 3 wild pitches and 2 homers in five innings is pretty much what it is—there’s no dressing it up.

Whether you believe Burnett’s story that he was cussing at the umpire and not Girardi upon his removal from his last hideous start (and I do believe him), the Yankees can’t keep trotting him out there if this is the performance they’re going to get; it’s every start now and it’s not fair to the rest of the team to play behind a pitcher who has become so thoroughly noncompetitive at the big league level that they’re going to either get blown out in the early innings or have to climb from a huge hole to win and burn out the bullpen to do it.

Freddy Garcia‘s cut finger bought Burnett some time and ended the Yankees six man rotation; but Garcia’s ready to come back. Burnett will again be safe because upcoming doubleheaders and an absence of off-days will require six starters; but once that’s done, how can they rightfully keep Burnett in the rotation when all returns to normal? What does it say to the rest of the team when someone is clearly holding onto his spot because of his paycheck, circumstances and the GM’s insistence that his signing was worthwhile?

And what would George Steinbrenner do?

If he was alive and at his bloviating peak, the first thing he’d do is scream like a raving maniac at someone about Burnett. It might be Cashman, Levine, one of his sons, an unfortunate secretary or a hapless assistant. But someone. The rant would resemble the following: “My GM tells me he’s getting me a great pitcher, I pay the guy $80 million *bleeping* dollars and he can’t even beat the *bleeping* Orioles!!!”

Then it would be leaked to the media that Steinbrenner’s not happy with Burnett; that he wants his manager Girardi and pitching coach Rothschild to do something about it. “It’s up to the manager and his experienced, veteran pitching coach—who has a long, respected history in the game—to figure out what to do with that struggling young man.”

Then he’d turn to a sycophantic member from the “Tampa faction” of the baseball ops, Connors.

This strategy’s logic is irrelevant; that’s what Steinbrenner would do.

Steinbrenner’s adherence to beliefs from his days coaching college football extended to his baseball ownership. For him, motivation emanated from fear and yelling. Sometimes it even worked. There have been times since his deterioration and passing that the Yankees needed a lightning rod to distract from issues that are now being taken up by Cashman; and Cashman has sometimes been tone deaf as to what he should and shouldn’t say. He’s not really suited to the role of organizational bad guy; Steinbrenner relished and cultivated it.

Would Connors or anyone else have success with Burnett? A bewildered shrug is the only answer I can formulate. I think former tennis star Jimmy Connors might be a viable choice to straighten Burnett out; if nothing else, he’d help with sour faces, carping at officials and showing some fire on the field while he’s on the field rather than when his manager inevitably comes to take the ball after another woeful start.

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Joe Girardi Is Smarter Than You

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The A.J. Burnett “controversy” as to whom he was talking to when he cussed while walking off the mound during a pitching change is obscuring another odious performance from the pitcher.

The video (apparently copied by someone from their TV and embedded from YouTube) is below.

The background story is how bad Burnett was; the foreground story is whether or not he was talking to manager Joe Girardi about being pulled or was referring to a pitch he’d thrown to Joe Mauer that he thought was a strike.

Burnett, Girardi and catcher Russell Martin all said it was about the pitch.

The Yankees fan base and media went into a predictable rant as to what they’d have done to Burnett; what should be done to Burnett; what will be done to Burnett.

Did it ever occur to anyone that perhaps Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild might be more versed in pitchers, pitching and handling players than the fans on Twitter who have the unpaid and unacknowledged ability to decipher a mechanical tweak or dispensing of punishement that would correct all of Burnett’s issues?

That the firestarters in the media are trying to craft controversy to create a buzz for their stories?

That the evolutionary-stunted, missing link Michael Kay doesn’t know anything about baseball to begin with so to think that he has the answer as to how to handle Burnett is a logical fallacy?

Joe Girardi went to Northwestern; is a feisty baseball veteran and longtime coach; a former catcher; and successful manager.

He’s smarter than you in life and baseball.

To think that he’s going to lose respect in the clubhouse because he either did or didn’t let Burnett get away with embarrassing him on the mound is ignoring that that same clubhouse has probably had about enough of Burnett as well; that the veteran players on the team will likely confront him and tell him to stop being a self-indulgent, blame-shifting baby—independent of whom he was talking to on the mound—and that he needs to do his job.

Girardi is managing a veteran team; he’s not Billy Martin in personality where he’s going to lose his temper and physically confront a player publicly to make circumstances exponentially worse and enable the media and fans to get what they want. He’s calculating the consequences.

Martin never lasted particularly long in any one place as a manager mostly because of blurring the lines of propriety and having to be the toughest guy in the room. This led to both his game-managing genius and consistent self-destruct mechanism; you can bet that Martin’s antics in today’s world would’ve made his managerial tenures even shorter, if they existed at all. He was an insecure, paranoid person.

Girardi is in to be the Yankees manager for the long haul and if he goes down the road of physically confronting players publicly, he’s leaping over the cliff.

Girardi’s not tough enough?

When he was managing the Marlins, he grabbed Scott Olsen by the shirt collar, yanked him down the dugout steps toward the clubhouse and screamed in his face—and it worked. A notoriously immature Olsen needed that.

Does Burnett?

Would it help if Girardi got into a made-for-TV altercation with a veteran under contract through 2013? Highly doubtful.

Girardi isn’t Martin; he’s smarter as a person and has a greater sense of self-control to know what would be wise and foolish. The fans and media don’t have that breadth of experience nor the guts to do what needs to be done no matter how much ranting and raving as to what “they’d” do.

They’d do nothing.

They’d do what they do: talk a lot; write about it; get nervous and frightened, concerned about perception rather than what would be good for the team and the player.

Was Girardi protecting his player? Maybe. It’s more likely that he’s telling the truth about what happened on the mound and, as has been the case this entire season with incidents involving Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, is dealing with it appropriately in spite of what would be a juicy story and what outsiders want.

Befitting his style and personality, he’s putting the fire out. That’s his job.

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Who’s Making The Decisions With A.J. Burnett?

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One unnoticed aspect of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s defense of A.J. Burnett is that it’s quite possible that Cashman’s agenda is preventing manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild from doing what they might prefer by pulling Burnett from the rotation.

Cashman doesn’t need to justify the contract given to Burnett—he’s not stupid; he knew what Burnett was. Presumably when he signed Burnett, he was hoping that Burnett would be able to stay healthy (he has); pitch into the 6th or 7th inning most of the time (he has); accumulate wins because of a run-scoring machine offense and a good bullpen (he hasn’t); and be serviceable (he has).

Burnett has delivered what was expected by the rational minds. During the winter of 2008-2009 spending spree, the Yankees got their number 1 and Cy Young Award contender in CC Sabathia; and their mid-rotation starter with ace-stuff in Burnett.

The problem isn’t Burnett, per se; it’s that he’s suddenly supposed to be something he’s not because of that contract. At 34-years-old, this is it and it’s not going to get better.

With a little luck, he could’ve won 18-20 games in 2009 and the Yankees would’ve been perceived to have “unlocked” the real Burnett when he was actually garnering wins as a byproduct of wearing pinstripes.

The six-man rotation isn’t going to affect the Yankees one way or the other. I don’t see it as healthy that there’s almost a hope that Ivan Nova falters to easily frame him being demoted to the minors or sent to the bullpen, but it is what it is. Cashman wants Phil Hughes and Burnett to start and that’s what’s happening.

Is this what Girardi and Rothschild want? After yesterday’s explosion (that will only make matters worse), I have to wonder.

Cashman’s running things and if that means telling his manager what to do, so be it.

As with many of his uncharacteristically headline-grabbing comments over the past year, Cashman should’ve kept his mouth shut—again—because this does more harm than good.

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The Johnny Sain Travel Guide

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Here’s a quote from Ball Four by Jim Bouton:

Every once in a while there’s a guy that doesn’t fit into the coaching mold, a man with an original idea or two who’s not afraid to express them, a guy who would like to have some influence on the club. I mean a guy like Johnny Sain. And what happens to him? He moves around a lot. He has to, because as soon as he asserts himself the manager wants to get rid of him, no matter how good a job he’s doing. (Ball Four by Jim Bouton, page 287.)

I thought of this as soon as I read that Brad Arnsberg had been fired by the Houston Astros.

It’s hard to get a gauge on Arsnberg because there are publicly differing opinions about him.

After he was fired by the Marlins in their 2003 purge, he was savaged by the club for his reaction to the firing. It wasn’t temperamental owner Jeffrey Loria who made negative statements about Arnsberg, but respected GM Larry Beinfest who accused the former pitching coach of being unprofessional and bordering on violent to the point where he wasn’t allowed into the stadium to pick up his belongings—Sun Journal Story, 5.12.2003.

It certainly didn’t help Arnsberg’s cause that the Marlins went on to win the World Series that year with new manager Jack McKeon replacing Jeff Torborg and pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal replacing Arnsberg.

Moving on with the Blue Jays, Arsnberg was widely credited with the work of veterans Ted Lilly and A.J. Burnett, along with youngsters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch; it’s not hard to look smart when working with Roy Halladay.

Arnsberg was basically pilfered by the Astros after the 2009 season. Star pitching coaches are generally in demand due to reputation and a prior record of success. Sometimes it works—as has been the case with Larry Rothschild and Rick Peterson; other times it hasn’t as was the case with Leo Mazzone.

It’s fleeting and based on results.

Or other factors.

The Astros pitched well last season. Brett Myers rejuvenated his career; J.A. Happ was solid after being acquired from the Phillies; Bud Norris has been good; Mark Melancon has blossomed.

Who knows what was going on inside the Astros organization and clubhouse? Did manager Brad Mills feel threatened by Arnsberg? Was there a falling out? Did they feel like doing something to try and wake up a struggling (and pretty poor) club.

“Philosophical differences” is a convenient excuse for a change and it’s of a similar vein to the “lack of communication” absurdity that’s often used when there’s no explicable reason.

I have no problem with a GM saying, “I wanted to make a change”. He doesn’t have to give a reason. He’s the boss.

But clubs don’t see it that way. They think they have to give something tangible to the media and “feeling like it” doesn’t cut it.

Years ago, when the Marlins had several pitchers on the disabled list with injuries to different parts of their bodies, I suggested that perhaps Arnsberg was the common denominator.

I’ve evolved from this view.

Very rare is it that a pitching coach will have training techniques that deviate from the norm so egregiously that pitchers will take part in them to begin with; and if they’re so unusual, it’s hard to see any manager allowing them to be utilized or the pitching coach to make it up to the big leagues.

It goes back to the Johnny Sain travel guide and the main tenet: don’t usurp the manager’s authority by disagreeing with him.

There are pitching coaches like this still floating around. Dick Pole has bounced from team-to-team, usually working for Dusty Baker. None other than Greg Maddux has said that it was Pole who taught him a great deal about the mechanics and mental aspects of pitching that Maddux used to forge a Hall of Fame career.

But Pole is as much-traveled as Sain was.

And Arnsberg is on the way to catching up to these men with their honorable, but short-lived reputations for accumulating frequent flyer miles and different mailing addresses.

Go along to get along or get fired for “philosophical differences” and “lack of communication”.

Some men are willing. Others aren’t. Those that aren’t tend to move around a lot and have extreme reputations. From the outside, this appears to be the case with Brad Arnsberg.

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Not Circulatory But Circular

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

I can understand why the Yankees are relieved that Phil Hughes doesn’t have a problem with his circulation that’s causing his dead arm and lack of velocity—NY Times Story—but I don’t see this as cause for celebration; they’ve sent him for MRIs and a battery of tests and still don’t have the faintest clue as to why he’s lost his fastball; why he couldn’t continue during his last bullpen session which launched this shockwave of fear throughout the organization and fanbase that the one of the vaunted three young “star” pitchers who made it in pinstripes was about to be shelved for a very long time.

How are they supposed to proceed when there’s no medical reason for the diminished velocity? For the absence of durability that cut short that bullpen session?

One quote in the linked piece is striking:

Now he will return on Tuesday to New York, despite having a locker set up for him in the visiting clubhouse, to rehabilitate his shoulder as the Yankees redouble their efforts to discover why it feels numb when he pitches.

Then what? Redouble their efforts how? Hughes was already on pitching coach Larry Rothschild‘s long-toss program and got worse. Because Hughes doesn’t have thoracic outlet syndrome or any other circulatory ailment doesn’t answer the initial question that began in spring training: Where’s Hughes’s fastball?

They can be happy he doesn’t have a long-term injury, but now they find themselves back where they started from, dealing with a question for which they’ve yet to find an answer.

If you don’t know the cause, how can you treat the effect?

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

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

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

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Travels In The Blameatorium

Books, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has been placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Naturally this is leading to the factional dispute exploding in full-force as to where the blame for this lies and what to do about it.

The obvious culprit is the attempt to make Feliz into a starter in spring training only to move him back to the bullpen when no clear-cut replacement as closer emerged. The age-old argument of whether or not a pitcher who can perform capably in both roles popped up again.

Would Feliz be of more value as a starter or reliever?

Does it matter if he’s on the disabled list?

In a similar vein as saying the sudden alteration in thought-processes and physical requirements could have played a part in Feliz coming up hurt, this is being treated as an opportunity to express the differing viewpoints with the injury as a lever to reopen that (supposedly for 2011 at least) closed door.

Michael Bates writes that the Rangers should start Feliz here on ESPN’s Sweet Spot.

Bobby Valentine said on Twitter: “I mentioned in spring training that Feliz would have a bad shoulder.”

Bates presents a numerical and historical foundation for his beliefs.

Given his intelligence and breadth of experience, Valentine is qualified to make such a prediction and gloat about it.

You can make a realistic case for both sides being right.

Feliz is still young enough that it’s unfair to pigeonhole him as a closer for the rest of his career if he’s able to start and turn into Derek Lowe—a good closer who became a consistent, durable starter.

People forget that Mariano Rivera was tried as a starter, didn’t have the stamina to maintain his stuff for the duration of a start and, more importantly, has the ice in his veins to get the big outs in a post-season game. Rivera was 26 when he made it to the big leagues to stay and was discovered to be a brilliant reliever almost by accident.

There’s no way to pinpoint why Feliz’s shoulder acted up, but that switch—physically and mentally—is a circumstantial aspect of the injury. He was a closer who appeared in 70 games last year and pitched into the playoffs all the way through to the World Series in high intensity situations; then he was tried as a starter this spring, worked as a starter, then was moved back to the bullpen.

It’s a different role; a different mindset; a different job. You can’t pigeonhole an individual into a position he might not be able to handle based on an ironclad set of principles that don’t and can’t apply to each and every person.

Prior to the Mets-Braves series, Capitol Avenue Club posted a Q and A with Joe Janish, a Mets blogger. In the piece, regarding Jenrry Mejia, Janish said:

Mejia has looked good so far in two AAA starts, but I’m wary to pin high hopes on him just yet because he has dangerous mechanics that will contribute to chronic arm problems. If Mejia ever corrects his delivery, he still needs to develop an off-speed pitch to be an MLB starter.

And Janish knows about Mejia’s mechanics and the proper “corrections” that need to be made how?

An experienced and heretofore respected pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan, tried to “correct” the mechanics of former top draft pick Brad Lincoln and was fired in part because of Lincoln’s inability to adapt to the changes and still maintain his stuff.

The same thing happened with Zach Duke as Jim Colborn, Jim Tracy‘s pitching coach with the same hapless Pirates, altered Duke’s mechanics and saw the “phenom” that Duke supposedly was (but really wasn’t) degenerate into a conspicuously hittable and mediocre pitcher.

So which is it?

Has anyone who’s exhibiting this after-the-fact armchair expertise ever stopped to think that the motion could be part of the reason why he’s effective? Why his pitches have the movement they do? That the deception or uniqueness of motion is an integral part of his “skill set”? (Another preferred term transplanted from the corporate world.)

Are they supposed to be starters or relievers?

Are the mechanics supposed to be “fixed” or left as they are?

It’s everywhere.

Phil Hughes is having the entire social network diagnosing and making suggestions as to how he can regain his lost velocity; and I guarantee that if Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild‘s long toss program doesn’t yield the desired results, Hughes will grow so desperate that he’ll try to incorporate any piece of advice he gets, regardless whether said advice is coming from an idiot or not.

Pitchers who have picture-perfect mechanics like Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan don’t come along very often. Much like there aren’t many pitchers who have the all-around ability to perform both jobs as starter and closer, you can’t shove a square peg into a round hole and not expect bits of the peg to be whittled away.

The facts are as follows: Neftali Feliz is on the disabled list; no one can directly say why because he might’ve gotten hurt if he was used exclusively as a closer in spring training or if he became a full-time starter.

Then that (whichever “that” you choose is based on your position in the argument) would’ve been the “reason” presented for his injury.

Under no circumstances should he be shifted into the rotation until next season; if they do it, it has to be over and done with. No looking back.

But we’ll still have the moles emerging from their holes to express their retrospective predictive expertise and analysis of Feliz, his mechanics, his use and his future.

It’s up to you whether or not to take it seriously.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

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

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

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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