The Angels’ structure was doomed to fail

MLB

Combine an old-school entrenched manager, a new-school stat-based general manager, and a meddlesome owner and you have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels’ situation finally blew up this week after 3 ½ years of dysfunction and disagreement between the direction in which GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia, and owner Arte Moreno wanted the club to go. In 2014, those fissures and diametrically opposed philosophies were glossed over by a misleading 98-win season and American League West title – the Angels’ first playoff appearance since 2009. They were unceremoniously swept away by the Kansas City Royals before they had the chance to enjoy their resurgence. While on the surface the rocky start to the relationship between Dipoto and Scioscia appeared to have stabilized with Moreno making clear than neither was going anywhere, the dueling belief systems were too much to overcome and Dipoto walked.

As the Angels struggled amid significant changes to the roster, were hovering around .500 and falling further and further behind the division-leading Houston Astros, Dipoto’s frustration with the on-field staff overtly ignoring the detailed statistical analysis and recommendations that were prepared reached a climax as he went to the clubhouse and addressed the issue to the manager, coaching staff and players. It did not go well. Rather than welcome the GM into the clubhouse, he was treated as an unwanted interloper undermining the manager and making unwelcome decrees.

This is a cultural issue more than disagreements regarding strategy. The old school that held sway as recently as ten years ago did not want the GM walking into the clubhouse and telling the manager and players, straight out, what he wanted. In today’s culture, such an instance is not only common, but expected. The days of the manager being left to run the team on the field as he sees fit are all but over in just about every venue except for Anaheim. And this is the problem.

Nowhere but in Anaheim does the manager have the power that Scioscia does. Bolstered by a 10-year contract and the (mostly) unwavering support of the owner, Scioscia has a backchannel to complain to the owner that has all but disappeared with the retirements of the likes of Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa. Managers without a resume to pull such an end-around will get fired as Bo Porter did by the Astros in late 2014.

The mistake Moreno has made is not in allowing Scioscia that power, nor was it in hiring Dipoto. The mistake was that he kept Scioscia in place and allowed him to retain the power while hiring a GM whose philosophy was so diametrically opposed to the manager’s. There’s a misplaced belief that putting high-quality people together in the same room and telling them to work together will somehow yield a positive result. As has been proven repeatedly, that is not the case. Because they couldn’t get on the same page does not imply that either man was wrong. The fact that Dipoto and Scioscia were not able to reach a détente in spite of Moreno’s attempts to placate both does not mean that any one person is responsible. Moreno’s intentions were good; Dipoto and Scioscia are smart baseball men; and the three could not work together if the team wasn’t streaking towards winning 100 games and cruising to the division title.

Scioscia wasn’t going anywhere and Dipoto knew it. Dipoto comes from conflicting experiences that collided with his realities. As a former player, he knew that there were certain lines that players, coaches and managers didn’t want crossed by upper management. As a front office executive, he also knew he would not be doing his job were he not to address issues that he felt were hindering the club. Going into the clubhouse might have been done out of frustration with the enough’s enough tone that if the manager and the team were not going to be receptive to his ideas, then he’d simply give them what he had and hope they used it. Once the reaction was so profoundly negative and quickly degenerated into a confrontation, he threw his hands up in the air and quit. Everyone has their breaking point at which they say, “I can’t work like this.” For Dipoto to react negatively to essentially being attacked in the clubhouse is thoroughly understandable for someone who’d been hired to do a job and was not being allowed to do it in the way he was trained.

Dipoto isn’t some outsider who went to a well-regarded university and decided that he’d like to work in baseball. This adds another layer to the complicated nature of his time with the Angels. He could be classified as a stat-guy, but he’s also a stat-guy who had an eight-year career in the Majors. He’s not some guy in a suit walking into the clubhouse, sticking a chew of dip into his lower lip, talking in clubhouse vernacular and eliciting “look at this poser” eye rolls.

Like the separation between church and state, Scioscia wants the lines between the manager’s office and the front office to be adhered to. He has transferred his known catching skills from being the best plate-blocker of the 1980s into his protectionist nature of his territory as a manager. Moreno did nothing other than smooth the egos to try and keep the front office and on-field staff working together.

In the final analysis, did Dipoto need to keep the job in the sense that he is not going to get hired elsewhere as Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t once the Philadelphia Phillies dismiss him? The answer is no. He’ll get another chance to be a GM. Dipoto is respected inside baseball. The circumstances he walked into are understood as having been untenable. Most importantly, he’s worked with a large proportion of the baseball community that is now making the bulk of the decisions as baseball bosses and is choosing whom to hire and fire. The Angels were probably the worst place for Dipoto to go given the unprecedented power the manager has and what Dipoto’s beliefs as to what the GM’s job are. Short of Moreno openly choosing one or the other by firing either Dipoto or Scioscia, Dipoto resigned. It was the only way this forced marriage could end.

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Josh Hamilton, SBNation and the insincere business-based apology

MLB

How many crackheads just out of rehab do you see the Texas Rangers giving gainful employment? How many cocaine addicted street hookers pimped out by their drug dealers and offering quick services in Lower Manhattan are getting lucrative baseball jobs in an effort to save them? What are the job prospects of a known addict who can’t be trusted to carry cash?

It’s hard for people with these issues to get any kind of a job, let alone one that pays them as well as what Josh Hamilton is paid.

So let’s not act as if the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Rangers or anyone else who’s dealt with Hamilton on a professional basis was indulging in a philanthropic attempt to assist substance abusers. This isn’t a societal cleanup nor is it a selfless attempt to save a life. The Angels gave Hamilton that $125 million contract because they felt they could use his bat and he’d maintain his sobriety. They were wrong. The Rangers took him back for a pittance because they’re a reeling organization, saddled with terrible contracts, and declining fan attendance. Maybe Hamilton can help them with one or all of those problems.

There’s a reason why all of this is happening and it’s not human kindness. He was allowed to nearly toss his career away with drugs and given numerous other chances because of the same gifts that made him the first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft. Whether the self-abuse has finally caught up to him physically is something that will be determined once he’s back on the field, an event that should be coming in the next several weeks. He’s getting chance after chance because he could once hit a baseball nine miles. If that wasn’t the case, his former employers might be willing to help him, but there would be a clear limit to how far they’d go.

While most people in baseball will say they hope for the best for Hamilton, there’s also an undercurrent of head shaking and “you did this to yourself” finger wagging. The political correctness that rules the day will preclude that from being clearly stated by the vast majority, but it’s there.

This leads directly into the deleted blog post by the Halos Heaven blog on SBNation. While the general reaction to the post was that it was heartless and cruel, it’s indicative of the declining level of discourse in our society, the lack of accountability, the fearlessness that comes from (probably) never having to face the people attacked on the internet, and the lack of training as a reporter and its consequences of everyone having a forum and playing “writer.”

The explanation – not an apology – that the author of the original post gave was illuminating as to what led to the post in the first place. It’s not meanness. It’s not a lack of caring. It’s a complete absence of accountability and focus on the self in opposition to providing intelligent foundation for discourse. It was an angry Angels fan who had undoubtedly said equally incendiary things about other subjects in the past but got away with it because there wasn’t the enraged backlash as there was to this last, blaze of glory act that ended up getting him tossed from the site.

Let’s not turn SBNation into a credible news organization. It’s a forum and a niche site with advertising, promotion and significant financial backing. That doesn’t make it credible. We’re not talking about a New York Times or Wall Street Journal editorial. It’s not even a Keith Olbermann Special Comment. It’s a schlock site with a vast proportion of fans who are expressing themselves. Sometimes that will come out as offensive.

There’s an arrogance that comes from public attention and the perception of success regardless of the quality of what’s presented. Those who find themselves getting paid for what these sites truly need – content and web hits – equate paid writing gigs with an ability to write; to analyze; to editorialize; to assess. In today’s world, there’s often not a connection between the two.

Had it not been so fresh an issue and no one paid attention to what was written, then there wouldn’t have been the uproar. They fired the writer. He claims they mutually parted ways. Their version of SBNation’s oversight was to reference the platform’s policies when it comes to content. The reason this happened is, as with most bloggers, there was no actual interaction between the writer and the subject.

Because this was dealt with in a way to assuage the masses who felt that the post was line-crossing, it doesn’t mean that there’s true regret.

Had the percentages been reversed and the public reaction to Hamilton’s relapse been 90 percent as disgusted with him as the Halos Heaven writer was and 10 percent calling for compassion, there would have been applause instead of public shaming and a loss of employment. That’s the reality. The person who ran Halos Heaven was bad for business and that’s why he’s gone. Not due to the Hamilton post. That’s simply a byproduct.

Bashing and Smashing the Real Underachievers—American League

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Yesterday I asked why the Mets were being hammered for playing pretty much the way anyone and everyone should’ve expected them to play. Today let’s have a look at some teams that were—according to the “experts,” payrolls and talent levels—were supposed to be performing better and why they aren’t.

Toronto Blue Jays

It’s becoming apparent that the Blue Jays are not a team off to a bad start. They might just be plain bad. In addition to that, one of the main culprits in their mediocrity/badness over the past two seasons—former manager John Farrell—has the Red Sox in first place with the best record in baseball. I don’t think he’s a good game manager, but the reality doesn’t lie. The Red Sox will fall to earth at some point, but will the Blue Jays rise?

They may not be making the same baserunning gaffes they did under Farrell, but they’re third in the American League in homers and twelfth in runs scored. They’re last in batting average, next-to-last in on-base percentage, and thirteenth in ERA. The bullpen has been solid, but if a team doesn’t hit and doesn’t get any starting pitching their roster is irrelevant whether it has Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Jose Bautista or whatever refuse the Mets are shuttling in and out of their outfield.

There’s too much talent with too long a history for this type of underperformance to continue for the whole season, but if it does it may be time to stop looking at the players, coaches and manager and turn the blame to the front office.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

What I find funny is that one of the main arguments for Mike Trout’s 2012 MVP candidacy apart from his higher WAR over Miguel Cabrera was that the Angels took off after he was recalled. Without him to start the season they were 6-14; with him in the lineup after his recall they were 81-58. Trout’s been there from the beginning of the 2013 season and the Angels are 10-17, looking haphazard, disconnected and awful. The only “war” being mentioned is the undeclared, but known, “war” between the front office and the manager.

They’re not a cohesive unit and when you have a bunch of mercenaries, some of those mercenaries had better be able to pitch.

Yesterday’s win over the Athletics was indicative of one of the Angels’ biggest problems: veteran apathy. In the eighth inning, an important insurance run would’ve scored had Mark Trumbo touched the plate before Josh Hamilton was thrown out at third base to end the inning. Mike Scioscia’s teams were known for the inside game, pitching, defense, speed and going all out. Those small fundamental mistakes didn’t cost them games because they didn’t happen. Now they do. And they’re 10-17 and going nowhere in large part because of that. They got away with it yesterday, but just barely. It certainly doesn’t help that their pitching is woeful, but their issues stem from more than just bad pitching.

Why don’t the Angels just put the man out of his misery? He’s been there for 14 years, it’s no longer his team, his sway in the organization is all but gone and the players aren’t responding to him. It’s like delaying the decision to put down a beloved pet. Another week isn’t going to make a difference other than to make things worse. Sometimes making a change for its own sake is good.

Tony LaRussa’s says he’s not interested in managing. He might be interested but for one thing: his relationship with Jim Leyland is such that he won’t want to compete with his friend in the same league and possibly ruin Leyland’s last shot at a title so LaRussa could stroke his own ego, make another big payday, derive some joy over abusing Jeff Luhnow and the Astros and being the center of attention again. It’s Ivory Soap Pure (99 44/100%) that you can forget LaRussa.

Phil Garner took over an Astros team that was floundering in 2004 and brought them to the playoffs; the next season, they were 15 games under .500 in late May of 2005 and rebounded to make the World Series. Even Bob Brenly, who was a figurehead as Diamondbacks manager and whose main attribute was that he wasn’t Buck Showalter and didn’t tell the players how to wear their socks, would restore a calming, “it’s different” atmosphere.

Someone, somewhere would yield a better result that Scioscia is now. It’s known and not accepted yet. Maybe after a few more losses, it will be accepted that it’s enough so they can move on.

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Mike Trout’s Contract and the Needless Uproar

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There’s been an absurd uproar and reaction of shock that the Angels chose to renew Mike Trout‘s contract for $510,000. This is strange considering that the constant storyline surrounding athletes is how overpaid they are. For the most part, it has little to do with their performance. Players who are at the top of the baseball pay scale like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto and Felix Hernandez are the examples given of players who are either not going to fulfill their paychecks with extended production into their late 30s or are considered anomalies and accused of PED use if they do perform.

In the realm of public perception, they can’t win. Of course they win in their bank account, but through no fault of their own, no matter what they do, it’s not going to be good enough.

Pujols’s contract is called a backend nightmare because he’s going to be paid $59 million two seasons after his 40th birthday.

A-Rod is breaking down physically, has $114 million due him with the very real possibility that the Yankees will eventually cut their losses of him and his constant sideshow of embarrassing drama, paying him to leave. They won’t even have the benefit of the extra income they thought they, as an organization, would accrue as A-Rod broke home run records. He probably won’t break the records at all and if he does, they’re sullied beyond all recognition due to his admitted PED use and recent allegations that their use has been ongoing.

Votto will be 30 in September and his 10-year, $225 million deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. He’ll be paid $25 million annually from age 35-39 and $20 million at 40. Plus Votto’s playing for a mid-market club, the Cincinnati Reds, for whom that contract might preclude them from putting commensurate talent around him.

Hernandez is a pitcher whose prematurely announced contract was put in jeopardy by red flags found in his elbow during his physical. By the time the contract news had been strategically leaked, neither he nor the Mariners could back out and protective language was inserted to shield the Mariners if he gets hurt.

Those who take down-the-line contracts to remain in their current venue are so rare that it’s a worldwide stunner when they make the decision that they don’t need to be the highest paid player in the world and that $85 million can buy just as much stuff as $200 million. Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria are players who have made that choice. They’re a rarity.

No matter where you stand on the issue of athletes’ pay, the way baseball functions can be manipulated to advantage the player, the club, or they can come to an agreement to share the risk with a preemptive, long-term deal. Once a player has exhausted his amateur eligibility, he’s at the mercy of the organization that drafts him. For the first three years of their major league careers, they’re paid at the whim of the team. The next three years they’re eligible for arbitration. Then they can become free agents. If they choose to do as Longoria did and sign a contract to give up their opportunity at arbitration and have their first couple of years at free agency bought out with guaranteed years and options, they can have a nice nest egg of $10-20 million regardless of whether if they flame out as players or become stars. It’s a gamble they take. It’s a gamble the team makes. It applies to everyone from Trout to the last player taken in the draft who manages to make it to the big leagues for a cup of coffee or is a late-bloomer and has a 20-year career.

You wouldn’t know that, though, from the indignant reaction to the Angels deciding to renew Trout’s contract for $510,000. Does Trout’s near-MVP season in 2012 have any bearing on the Angels’ decision to raise his salary by $28,000 from what he made as a rookie? Should it?

The Players Association makes the rules for all the players and it’s the players who instituted these rules. It allowed MLB to implement draconian constraints on newly drafted players because of the proffered reason to cut down on the huge signing bonuses amateurs receive. But the real, primordial reason is a “screw those guys” attitude that permeates established players and would, in a financial form of plausible deniable hazing, let the drafted players work their way up to making big money. It’s long been a point of contention for veteran major leaguers to see some kid taken at number 5 in the draft being handed an automatic $8 million bonus for nothing other than being a good amateur or having great tools. They dealt with it the best way they knew how. Of course it blew up in some of their faces as solid pitcher Kyle Lohse is sitting out because no one wants to give up the draft pick to sign him.

Eventually it affects everyone. These are the rules. The Angels aren’t beholden to an abstract code of right and wrong. They don’t have to give Trout a long-term contract extension if they don’t want to and they renewed his contract for an amount determined on their own volition. They don’t have to apologize or explain.

If Trout plays even 75% as well as he did in 2012, he’s going to get a $200 million contract from the Angels or someone else. He’ll have his freedom in five years. For now, he’s tied to the club that drafted him and that club can pay him whatever they choose to pay him under the parameters of the basic agreement. They decided on $510,000 and that’s what he’ll be paid. Or maybe they’re already planning a long-term contract to pay him for the next 6-8 years and buy out his arbitration years and free agency. Until that happens, his salary is what it is.

Is it fair?

Is it unfair?

It’s neither. These are the rules. It’s not slave wages and there’s no reason for the explosion of public ridicule for the Angels operating within the pay structure in Major League Baseball.

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Dayton Moore—Desperate; Jack Zduriencik—Genius?

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Desperation and job security are in the eye of the beholder.

Last season Jason Vargas was, in stat guy metrics, more valuable than James Shields with a 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) compared to Shields’s 2.2. Vargas is a free agent after the 2013 season while Shields is signed through 2014, so the Royals have Shields for two years vs the Angels guaranteed to have Vargas for one, but the return on the trades that sent both from their former homes should be viewed in the same light.

Royals’ GM Dayton Moore was torched for trading top prospect Wil Myers and other young minor leaguers to the Rays for Shields and Wade Davis. Vargas was traded by the Mariners by their GM Jack Zduriencik (a stat guy totem) to the Angels for 1B/OF/DH Kendrys Morales. On the surface, the trades don’t appear to be similar, but in reality, they are.

Vargas isn’t particularly good and isn’t a substantial upgrade for the Angels, but if Zduriencik was in year two of his administration and still getting a pass for what he inherited from Bill Bavasi, would he have made this trade? Or did he bow to expediency to try and get better in the now with an acquisition for a “name” player to try and score a few more runs because he’s in year five and under fire, possibly having to show legitimate improvement to keep his job?

Moore was accused of making a capricious and desperate trade in an attempt to save his job and the Myers trade was added to the list of charges on the indictment.

In comparison, one of the stat persons’ “own,” Zduriencik, has been essentially bulletproof from criticism from the wing that portrays themselves as seeking profundity through statistical truth, but is just as invested in altering the narrative to fit into their desired template. There’s a collision of philosophies when a faction uses one man’s trades (in this case Moore) to advance an agenda; and another’s trades (Zduriencik’s) to defend an agenda. The genesis of these deals is basically the same even if the players are entirely different.

Zduriencik’s tenure as Mariners’ GM somewhat mirrors Moore’s with only perception separating the two. They’ve both rejuvenated dilapidated farm systems and developed prospects that are highly regarded around baseball. They’ve made free agent signings, somewhat going over budget to disastrous results as Moore did with Jose Guillen and Gil Meche and Zduriencik with Chone Figgins. Both are on their third manager. Neither has made meaningful progress in the bottom line win column. Yet comparing the vitriol Moore inspires and the silence that accompanies Zduriencik’s tenure, you’d think they were polar opposites. They might be in terms of philosophy, but in the sum of their reigns? Not at all.

Would the Royals have been better served to keep Myers? Or did they put themselves in the thick of playoff contention for 2013-2014 by getting one genuine All-Star pitcher—Shields, and a pretty good 200-inning arm—Davis? The Royals will more than likely be a better team immediately because of the trade Moore made in spite of viable criticisms of the short-sightedness of the move.

Can the same be said for the Mariners and this trade?

Vargas’s situation is separate from Myers’s because of Vargas’s pending free agency and reputation as a creature of the Mariners’ formerly spacious home park of Safeco Field. When the decision was made to bring the fences in significantly to boost the offense, pitchers like Vargas were either going to suffer statistically or need to be traded. In 2012, 26 of the 35 homers he surrendered were away from Safeco. If he’d stayed with the Mariners, there’s a good chance he’d allow 40 homers next season; and as a pending free agent for a team offensively destitute with pitching to spare, he was a logical choice to go. But for Morales? A rental for a rental to play for a team that has very little chance at contention in 2012? This was a cosmetic trade and won’t make the club markedly better over the long term. They’ll be slightly better in the short term. Moore’s trade doesn’t simply change the optics as Zduriencik’s does. In 2013-2014, it does guarantee to make the Royals better because no one knows whether Myers is truly ready, but we do know what Shields and Davis are and they’re far better than what the Royals trotted out to the mound last season.

For Zduriencik, this winter has consisted of dumping one free agent bust (Figgins) and replacing him with another one (Jason Bay); he traded for Robert Andino; selected Scott Cousins off waivers from the Blue Jays (maybe he can run around the field ramming into other clubs’ stars and knock them out as he did with Buster Posey); and by acquiring Morales.

It’s repeatedly said that the Mariners were “in it until the end” on Josh Hamilton. In the stat person’s world of the definable and “you are what you are,” this would be mocked as the lamentations of a loser. In the Mariners’ case, it’s used as evidence of “trying.”

There are repeated references to prospects on the way for the Mariners. On the way. Eventually. Someday. Much of their talent base are pitchers waiting to graduate to the big leagues for a club whose ballpark is no longer as conducive for pitchers to succeed as it once was. Do you see the dichotomy?

Morales will make the Mariners’ offense better, but how much of his infusion of power will be counteracted by the increased number of homers the pitchers are going to allow? They’re in the AL West with the high-powered Angels; the still-talented Rangers; and the AL playoff surprise Athletics. Barring a shocking rise, massive trade to improve immediately (sort of like what Moore did), or a free agent signing out of the blue, can they contend in 2013? I don’t see how.

At least they’ll be able to beat on the horrific Astros.

Perhaps Zduriencik can again he can use Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman as a handpuppet like he did in the Cliff Lee/Michael Pineda trades. Nothing else seems to be working and, on his GM epitaph, it won’t be a total negative to say, “He torched the Yankees a couple of times.” That might be all he has left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Josh Hamilton’s Wife Is Right

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Josh Hamilton’s statements at his introductory press conference with the Angels were predictable with subtle digs at the Rangers, religious references, expressions of happiness to be with the new club, etc. Nothing earth-shattering was said.

In addition to paying him a lot of money (5-years, $125 million), the Angels are doing their best to place Hamilton in the sobriety cocoon and have hired Hamilton’s sponsor/babysitter Shayne Kelley away from the Rangers to keep an eye on Hamilton and try to tether him to the wagon and ensure the Angels aren’t paying for another trip to rehab instead of an outfielder to provide them with 40 homers. It’s a relatively paltry investment to pay Kelley when they’ve got so much riding on Hamilton without benefit of a prenuptial agreement to protect them if he starts using again.

In conjunction with the “marriage” theme, the most poignant and accurate moment wasn’t what Hamilton said, but what his wife said. In comparing the free agent process to a relationship, Katie Hamilton said (clipped from this ESPN story):

“We were with them for five years. If you’re going to date someone, you make it known and official pretty quick,” she said. “They let us date other teams and Josh had said he would give them first chance and they didn’t (make a move).”

The Rangers are, in a sense, the spurned lover. Hamilton “left” them for someone else and didn’t give them a chance to win back his heart. But, in that same context, the Rangers will take a bit of time to reflect on the ups and downs of Hamilton’s tenure; understand with a coldly analytical efficiency that if it were to go forward, the peaks weren’t worth the potential valleys at the cost and commitment it was going to take to retain him and keep him clean and productive.

It’s mentally and physically exhausting to constantly supervise one individual as if he’s an infant who’ll run into traffic once a head is turned. That’s where it was with Hamilton. He’s a 31-year-old, 6’4”, 240 pound infant and is the Angels’ responsibility now.

It works both ways and by using the relationship metaphor, Katie Hamilton is right. The Rangers may not know it yet, but once it sinks it, they’ll be relieved. The bitterness will pass, they’ll wake up after the fog of rejection clears and realize that they’re glad he’s gone. Hamilton did the work by failing to give the Rangers the option to match the deal—something they probably weren’t going to do anyway. Now they can move on without the Hamilton baggage that was getting too heavy and costly for them to carry. It’s for the best.

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Josh Hamilton Fallout

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Let’s look at how the Angels’ signing of Josh Hamilton will affect everyone involved.

Josh Hamilton

Southern California is a far better locale for Hamilton than New York, Boston or Philadelphia would have been and perhaps his time in Texas had come and gone. Amid all the talk of Hamilton being injury-prone, he played in 148 games in 2012. If the Angels get that out of him, they’ll be fine with it. The other storylines with Hamilton from last season suggesting he was distracted and disinterested, or that his numbers took a freefall after his 4 homer game in Baltimore in May are profoundly negative.

The facts are that Hamilton is still in his prime, had numbers nearly identical home/away, and hit 43 homers, with 128 RBI, and a .930 OPS. If he didn’t have the history of addiction problems, he would’ve gotten $200 million on the open market even with the injury history. Those personal demons will constantly be there and no location—Southern California, Arlington, Boston, New York, Philly—would shield him from temptation or the desire to escape when things aren’t going his way. The Angels must put him under what amounts to Secret Service protection/surveillance to keep him straight.

As crazy as it sounds, considering his on-field production, for 5-years and $125 million, the Angels got a discount if Hamilton is clean and healthy for his majority of his tenure with the team.

Los Angeles Angels

Buster Olney said the following on Twitter:

It’s become evident that this Hamilton deal was made over the head of the Angels’ baseball operations department.

If this is true, then the Angels’ situation is worse than I thought.

Their lineup is one of the most intimidating in baseball, but their entire template of speed, defense, starting and relief pitching has changed while they’re keeping aspects of their old methods of doing business (manager Mike Scioscia) and their new methods of doing business (GM Jerry Dipoto) with open interference from non-baseball people that is reminiscent of George Steinbrenner trashing the Yankees in the 1980s after dispatching of all the qualified people—Gabe Paul, Gene Michael, Al Rosen—who put a check on his whims in the 1970s. In those times, Paul was able to say to Steinbrenner something to the tune of, “If you trade Ron Guidry, it’s going to be your deal and you’ll be responsible if it goes bad.”

Steinbrenner backed off because the last thing he wanted was to be the final man standing when the music stops in the game of responsibility.

That’s what the Angels are becoming: the 1980s Yankees, and Arte Moreno is starting to act like Steinbrenner.

It’s going to end the same way as the 1980s Yankees did too.

I get the sense that Scioscia’s not going to last beyond May of 2013 as manager through a “this isn’t working,” “let’s put him out of his misery,” style dismissal. This Angels group isn’t his type of team and perhaps he’d be better off elsewhere, escaping this ship as it starts to leak and before it sinks completely.

One name to watch if this goes bad and Scioscia’s out: Tony LaRussa. He might be rested and bored with retirement; he has the star power Moreno clearly wants; would look at the Angels as an opportunity to win another title quickly; he can deal with Albert Pujols and maybe—maybe—cobble it together if it goes as I think it’s going to go with Scioscia and this foreign, star-studded crew of mercenaries: poorly.

The American League

The Rangers were blindsided by the Angels rapid strike on Hamilton, but much of their dismay could be partially due to not having gotten anything else they wanted—Justin Upton, Zack Greinke—this winter; and partially to keep up appearances as to wanting Hamilton back desperately. I don’t think they did. In the long-run, they’re better off that he left. The relationship had run its course.

The Athletics are so young and oblivious that the vast majority of them won’t realize that Hamilton is on the Angels until they’re in Anaheim and they seem him striding up to the plate. “When did the Angels get Hamilton?” They won’t be too bothered either.

The Mariners are a farce. Now they’re reduced to the née “Amazin’ Exec” Jack Zduriencik signing Jason Bay to “boost” their offense with reports that they were “in the hunt” on Hamilton to the very end.

How nice. So…so….close!!!

Zduriencik’s close to something alright. That something is getting fired. Don’t be surprised if there’s a new braintrust in place in Seattle before 2013 is over with perhaps Pat Gillick returning to the Mariners as the man in charge of baseball ops and Mike Arbuckle as day-to-day GM.

The Yankees and Red Sox are staging their own wrestling match as to which of them can make the more desperate and inexplicable signings to cling to what the world was like 10 years ago instead of accepting today’s reality. Ryan Dempster, Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli—all are short-term painkillers to persuade the fans that it’s all going to be okay. They can look toward the West and worry about the clubs vying for playoff spots as a diversionary tactic from their mano-a-mano battle for the bottom of the AL East, because that’s what they’re fighting for if they stay as currently constructed.

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Longoria, the Rays, and…Wright

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On the heels of Evan Longoria agreeing to a contract extension with the Rays that will guarantee him $100 million through 2022, the news is out that the Mets offered David Wright a 6-year, $100 million extension. Naturally, as is the case with anything the Mets do, this is cast as a lowball, “show me,” “look we tried,” proposition when the offer is legitimate and reasonable considering what comparable players have received.

The main differences between Wright and Longoria are leverage, age and perception. Wright is a free agent after 2013; prior to the new contract, Longoria was locked up by the Rays until 2016. Wright is about to turn 30; Longoria just turned 27. Longoria is considered a big game player because many of his hits have been considered “clutch” (with good reason) and Wright is more of a steady performer whose numbers accumulate and he’s unfairly been seen as a central figure in the disappointment of a Mets team that stumbled at crunch time.

In reality, they’re pretty much the same player. In fact, Wright has the advantage of durability that Longoria doesn’t have. Longoria has had quadriceps strains, hamstring tears, and wrist problems. Wright got hit in the head and suffered a stress fracture in his back, both of which he’s recovered from.

In his career, Longoria has traded his arbitration years and window to freedom for security. He signed a contract as a rookie (shortly after he arrived in the big leagues) that guaranteed him $17.5 million and could have made him as much as $44.5 million. Now, as an established star player, he’s got his $44.5 million and an additional $100 million on top of that. There’s not a no-trade clause in the deal with Longoria’s only recourse if the Rays decide to trade him is waiting until after 2017 when he’ll be a 10 and 5 player (10 years in MLB, 5 years with the same team) and subsequently can reject any deal. But before then, if the Rays choose to move him due to financial constraints or because they receive an offer they can’t refuse, there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s a trade-off that both sides made. Longoria gets his guaranteed money, the Rays have flexibility. Because Longoria is locked up until 2022, it doesn’t mean he’ll be a Ray for that entire time. That’s the way the contract was designed and the manner in which the Rays operate. The Rays said, “We’ll give you more security in exchange for flexibility.” Longoria accepted that.

The Mets are not in the position of the Rays where they have a terrible ballpark and limited fanbase. The Mets’ financial problems are not related to baseball’s structure, but are a byproduct of circumstance and will presumably end at some point. For the Mets and  Wright, the offer that has been made public isn’t for public relations purposes, but is a reasonable, market-driven deal. That doesn’t mean Wright’s going to take it. For all the talk that the Mets are dragging their feet, the Wright camp is probably also taking a wait-and-see approach to know where the dollar figures are for players in this year’s free agent class. If there’s a team that tosses a record amount of money at Zack Greinke and rolls the dice on Josh Hamilton; if a club gets crazy for Wright’s childhood friend in Virginia B.J. Upton, then Wright can say he’s going for the big money next winter and unless the Mets pay him and pay him big now, he’s not signing anything. But if the deals these players get aren’t what’s expected; if the number of teams that are still willing to go overboard as the Angels did with Albert Pujols is limited to one or two; if no club other than the Dodgers is spending wildly, then Wright isn’t going to do much better than the 6-years, $100 million and will be more willing to take it.

The Jose Reyes comparisons are simplistic and stupid. Those negotiations weren’t “negotiations” in the truest sense. The Mets wanted Reyes back, but they didn’t want to give him $100 million (money that they didn’t have and certainly didn’t want to spend on him) and they knew they had a reasonable—if significantly less flashy—replacement for him with Ruben Tejada. It’s a different matter with Wright. The Mets want him back and know how hard he’ll be to replace on and off the field.

The common sense approach from the Mets to Wright is to be conciliatory and ingratiating. They should not imply that because Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman took $100 million over six that Wright should know what’s good for him and do the same thing. The Mets should approach Wright with the facts. Those facts are that he’s not going to do much better on the market than 6-years at $100 million with a reachable option to make it 7-years at $125 million and perhaps an eighth year option as well; that the Mets are in position to get markedly better and contend by possibly 2013 and definitely 2014 with all that young pitching and money coming off the books; and that, like the Rays and Longoria, it behooves both sides to come to an agreement. A no-trade clause isn’t even necessary for the new deal because Wright will be a 10-and-5 player after 2013.

The Wright-Mets extension talks aren’t in a holding pattern because the participants staked their positions with no room for compromise and a pure impasse. 6-years at $100 million was a start. If a deal gets done, it won’t be until the other pieces currently making the free agent rounds come off the board and there’s a clue as to what the numbers have to be and could be to make it worthwhile for the Mets and Wright. In that context, the Wright and Longoria comparisons are equal and like Longoria, I’d expect Wright to eventually sign an extension with the Mets, but it won’t be until the new year.

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Zack Greinke—Free Agency Profile

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Name: Zack Greinke

Position: Right-handed starting pitcher

Vital Statistics: Age—29; Height—6’2”; Weight—200 lbs; Bats—Right; Throws—Right

Transactions: June 2002—Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 1st round (6th pick) MLB Draft from Apopka HS in Florida; traded by the Kansas City Royals

December 19, 2010—Traded by the Royals to the Milwaukee Brewers with INF Yuniesky Betancourt and cash for OF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, and RHP Jake Odorizzi

July 27, 2012—Traded by the Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for SS Jean Segura, RHP Ariel Pena, and RHP Johnny Hellweg

Awards: 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner

Agent: Casey Close

Might he return to the Angels? Yes

Teams that could use and pay him: Los Angels Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers

Positives: Greinke has a low-90s fastball that he can accelerate it up to around 97 when he needs it; this is what was referred to 100 years ago by the likes of Christy Mathewson as “pitching in a pinch.” His control is masterful; he has three variations on his fastball—a cutter, a four-seamer, and a two-seamer—a curve, slider, and changeup. The combination makes him one of the most gifted pitchers in baseball.

He formulates a gameplan and executes it. Greinke’s motion is clean and effortless and he’s been physically healthy (apart from a his fractured rib incurred playing basketball) for his whole career. He can hit, is a fine all-around athlete, and a leader off the field ready and willing to provide tips to teammates and even the front office.

Negatives: His much-publicized psychological issues and battle with depression have led to the perception that he wouldn’t be able to handle the high-pressure East Coast venues of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. He has a deer-in-the-headlights look that put forth the image of fear and inability to deal with big games. His one opportunity in the post-season came in 2011 with the Brewers and he got rocked in three starts.

What he’ll want: 7-years, $167 million with a full no-trade clause

What he’ll get: 6-years, $148 million with a 7th year option raising it to a potential $170 million and a full no-trade clause

Teams that might give it to him: Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, Red Sox, Cardinals

The Rangers want Greinke and have the money to pay him, but they’re not going as high as the bidding will get. The Angels have the cash, but they re-signed Jered Weaver and signed C.J. Wilson to essentially duplicate contracts that each total about half of what Greinke wants. Are they going to make an increasingly toxic clubhouse atmosphere worse by overpaying for an outsider after Weaver went against the wishes of his agent Scott Boras by taking a down-the-line salary to forego free agency and stay? With the Albert Pujols contract on the books, I don’t see Arte Moreno okaying such an outlay for Greinke.

The Nationals are loaded with money but, truthfully, they don’t need Greinke. They’ll spend their money on a center fielder and if they want another starting pitcher will go the cheaper/easier route with a lower level name with Dan Haren or by trading for James Shields.

The Red Sox are trying to get back to their roots of the Theo Epstein era, but have also made some noise for players like Josh Hamilton and Greinke who might not be best-suited for Boston. Like with Hamilton, the Red Sox could panic as a response to the anger of their fan base and the drastic improvement of the Blue Jays.

The Cardinals have money to spend with Chris Carpenter and Carlos Beltran both coming off the books after 2013; they’re going to need to sign Adam Wainwright, but the departure of Pujols truly freed the Cardinals to do other things. Greinke would be great in St. Louis.

In the end, it comes down to what the Dodgers are willing to do. Cash is no object; they have money with their new ownership and they’re spending it.

Would I sign Greinke? If I had the money to spend and the agreeable, relaxed venue, I would. Greinke in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia is not a good idea.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? It’s a lot of money and that amount of money for a pitcher is a risk. That said, Greinke is 29 and keeps himself in shape. As far as pitchers go, he’s more likely than most to be able to stay healthy and productive for the length of a 6-7 year deal.

Prediction: Greinke will sign with the Dodgers.

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