What sparked the last Mets spending spree? Can it happen again?

MLB, Uncategorized

Machado pic

As the Mets’ skid continues and they prepare for an unexpectedly critical three-game series against the crosstown Yankees that, without hyperbole, can make or break the entire season, there is an ongoing and potentially franchise-altering debate as to the club’s direction.

Most observers have established positions on one extreme or the other. One side advocates for a complete and total rebuild trading any valuable assets to reload for the future. The other wants the team to spend-spend-spend to add free agents and go all-in.

Already, general manager Sandy Alderson has downplayed the idea of a teardown like the ones that succeeded for the Astros and Cubs with the somewhat justified assertion that they do not always work and the circumstances must be such that no other strategy makes sense. For the Mets to endure the short-term pain of trading away Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and anyone else of value, they need to accept that there is no potential avenue of success should they retain them.

It’s a tough sell to tell the fans that the team will lose 90+ games for the foreseeable future as youngsters in Single and Double-A develop and the club is relying on the vagaries of the draft, especially if they might pull the trigger on such a blueprint and then find themselves either making mistaken evaluations or ending up right back in the middle which is where they are right now.

Neither the Astros nor the Cubs are solely constituted of homegrown talent or players who were acquired in those gutting trades. What those teams had in common was that their farm systems were largely destitute when they embarked on those extreme reconstructions and they were losing 90 to 100 games anyway. The Mets are not in that position…yet. Once the Astros and Cubs had developed a solid core around which to build, they started spending big money.

With deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario in place and under team control, the Mets already have that core. A full gutting does not make sense.

The question with the Mets – and the Wilpons – is whether they will do what needs to be done to bolster that group with big-name talent not to fill in, but to take the pressure off those youngsters that they do not need to immediately vault into superstardom.

Mets history has been one in which cycles of contention were followed by extended lulls where it was obvious what was coming and the organization failed to act before bottoming out. Instead, they responded by forcing mismatched pieces into the structure and created an eyesore in the aesthetic and practical sense. The breakdown of the mid-to-late-1980s annual World Series favorite gave way to the Vince Coleman and Bobby Bonilla years; the late 1990s contenders devolved into the botched attempts to implement Moneyball strategies without actually understanding it by signing Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer instead of Vladimir Guerrero and sticking Jason Phillips at first base; the 2006-2008 teams that barely missed winning that elusive title and became the case study for dysfunction and collapse were undone by faulty patchwork and financial nightmare.

The 2006-2008 teams were only contenders because of what happened from 2002-2004.

The 2004 Mets had degenerated into a mess with their misplaced attempts at aggression and a lack of the necessary competence and “final say” authority in the baseball operations. This led to trading their best prospect, Scott Kazmir, for an injured journeyman Victor Zambrano, in a flawed attempt to make a playoff run when they were below .500, 7 games out of first place, and 7.5 games behind the Wild Card leader at the trade deadline.

There was no one to say, “No.” There was no plan. There was a committee with different fiefdoms trying to maintain their position and ingratiate themselves to a meddling ownership. The results were plain to see.

Once Zambrano got hurt and the club staggered to the finish line – again – ownership acted by hiring Omar Minaya to head up its baseball operations. Minaya was a member of the Mets “family” having worked in the organization during its previous heyday and sold the Wilpons on the need not just to be aggressive in pursuing upgrades, but to go for the crème de la crème of free agents.

Yes, they overpaid to get Pedro Martinez and, on the field, they didn’t get what they paid for by a longshot. Off the field, the Martinez signing was a bullhorn to other players and agents that the Mets were no longer messing around, satisfied with making an offer and coming in second as if that was somehow a noteworthy accomplishment.

The “at least they tried” template that was in place in 2004 is in place in 2018 and the results are looking eerily similar.

It was that humiliation and concession that their trades, bargain signings and faux attempts to be forward-thinking failed that served as the catalyst not just to hiring someone like Minaya who was under no illusions about how to get the team back into contention, but was willing to take the necessary steps to get it done and – most importantly – convinced ownership that it needed to be done.

That club had a young foundation around which to build with David Wright and Jose Reyes, both 22, that was not as deep as the one they have now.

Much has been made of the Mets having a relatively large payroll – perhaps not for the New York market, but large nonetheless – of around $157 million; that they spent money in the offseason to try and fill their holes by singing Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and Anthony Swarzak; that they hired a new-age manager suited for today’s game in Mickey Callaway. But, like 2004, it’s all going wrong.

Any assertion that the Mets must go all-in for a Manny Machado or any other name free agent and try to win immediately with deGrom, Syndergaard, Conforto, Rosario, et, al. and shun the half-measures the club has become infamous for is predicated on the realization that hoping for a best-case scenario with no margin for error is not enough. If the Bernie Madoff-induced financial problems are truly in the rearview mirror as the Wilpons and Major League Baseball continue to attest, then there’s no viable explanation not to pry open the vault and spend some cash on legit players. Alderson is signed through 2019 and despite repeated accusations of him being cheap, he was perfectly willing to spend on players when the money was available to him during his days as the GM of the Athletics in their late-1980s-early 1990s dominance that overlapped with that of the Mets.

The only question is whether the club has reached the level of frustration and acceptance that they did in 2004 to force them to act.

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Rays and Orioles: Early Season Notes

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Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were one of the few teams with a “surplus” of starting pitching. So they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals and signed Roberto Hernandez (AKA Fausto Carmona) as insurance and to vie for a role in the rotation. Jeff Niemann’s season-ending shoulder surgery put a damper on the depth and they’ve gotten off to a rocky start as Hernandez has pitched poorly and Jeremy Hellickson—who I’m not a fan of anyway—has been inconsistent.

Key parts of the lineup haven’t hit. Some, like Yunel Escobar and Matthew Joyce, will. Others like James Loney and Ryan Roberts might or might not. In the end, they’ll score enough runs to win…if the pitching is good enough or David Price and Matt Moore carry the load for the shakiness of the back of the rotation.

This should’ve been expected of a team like the Rays who run their club making trades and signings with an eye on saving money, spending where they can, and hoping to hit at the roulette wheel with the likes of Hernandez and Loney. Amid all the hits such as Fernando Rodney and Casey Kotchman, there are also misses like Pat Burrell and Matt Bush. Some have been costlier than others.

There are calls to bring up Wil Myers to boost the offense and, in some manner, justify having traded Shields and Davis to get him. Inside the Rays clubhouse there are expressions of pained understanding as to why the Rays traded Shields and Davis, with the unsaid wishing that they were still there to help in the now.

The Rays front office isn’t concerned about what the players think. No winning organization is. They may listen to a point in order to placate the stars, but in the end, it’s the organization’s decision. Few sports figures exert as much influence over their club as Tom Brady does with the New England Patriots and even he had his knuckles rapped by club owner Bob Kraft over Brady’s overt displeasure at Wes Welker being allowed to leave. “I don’t answer to Tom Brady,” Kraft said.

Nor should he.

Bending to pressure, inside and out, would betray the entire reason the Rays made the trade in the first place; in fact it would contradict the entire foundation of the rebuilding of the Rays into a team that wins in spite of payroll constraints. Myers was acquired because he’s a top-tier prospect, cheap and will have value for them when they can no longer afford some of the players in their lineup who are expected to be significant offensive contributors now, like Joyce. If and when Myers is recalled, it won’t be until it’s financially and practically beneficial to the Rays, not before.

In general, veteran players will provide what’s expected of them and what they’ve historically done barring injuries or an age-related decline in skills. This is why there’s no need to be concerned about Escobar and Joyce and there is need to be concerned about Hernandez and Loney.

This is the situation the Rays face on an annual basis. Maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.

Baltimore Orioles

To GM Dan Duquette’s credit, he didn’t make the mistake the Mariners did under Bill Bavasi and equate an overachieving 2007 season of 88-74 into an idea of “all we need is one more pitcher” and trade a large chunk of his system to the Orioles—including Adam Jones and Chris Tillman—for Erik Bedard.

(Interestingly, Mariners current GM Jack Zduriencik did pretty much the same thing in trading for Cliff Lee after a similarly overachieving season that was based more on luck than reality in 2009. Yet he was referred to as a “genius” for doing what Bavasi did. He’s not being called a genius anymore, but that’s another story.)

The Orioles of 2012, unlike the Mariners of 2007, made the playoffs. They bounced the Rangers and shook the Yankees before losing in the ALDS in 5 games. The Orioles, having won, are no longer viewed as a last resort location for old and declining players to get a last paycheck. The temptation to use the new street cred among marketable players willing to join the Orioles must have been great, as must have been the offers for the likes of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Duquette did a tweak here and a tweak there, but mostly stood pat in spite of the Orioles having reason to say they were going for it in 2013, even though that would’ve been a mistake.

They’re around .500 now and the “experts” in the media had them taking a dramatic fallback to, at best, .500 for the season.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Currently relying on the same template as last season with a deep bullpen, a power-hitting lineup and pedestrian starting pitching, the situation looks the same as in 2012, but is actually subtly different.

If his elbow stiffness subsides and he’s pitching in the minors soon, the Orioles can expect Bundy to help them in the second half of the season; Machado will be with the team all year. If they’re hovering around .500 and still in contention in a parity-laden AL East at mid-season, they’ll be very dangerous down the stretch.

I don’t see people referring to Duquette with starstruck, agenda-driven awe as they did with Zduriencik, but Duquette’s the one with the past success, courage of his convictions, and is a better executive.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Enough About The Red Sox Chemistry

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There is a place for chemistry in baseball and I’m not talking about PEDs. The Red Sox have been lauded for their improved clubhouse atmosphere coinciding with more likable people in the room such as Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and manager John Farrell. It’s undoubtedly a more pleasant place without the rampant dysfunction and selfishness that culminated in a 69-93 last place disaster in 2012.

To put the team in context, however, they scarcely could’ve been worse in terms of cohesiveness and being on the same page than they were in 2012. The preponderance of the blame is placed on the desk of former manager Bobby Valentine because he’s a convenient scapegoat and is gone. But there’s more than enough responsibility to go around from owner John Henry with his increasing detachment from the Red Sox day-to-day affairs to focus on building the Fenway sports brand, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool football club’s faithful; CEO Larry Lucchino who spearheaded the Valentine hiring over the objections of the baseball people; and GM Ben Cherington who made the ill-fated decision to trade Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey among other questionable moves and whose head is now in the noose with the expensive signings of Victorino, Ryan Dempster and the trade for Joel Hanrahan along with the highly dubious decision to trade for Farrell to manage the team, ostensibly because they knew him and he was there when the team was at the height of its powers.

Amid all the chemistry talk and references—specifically from former manager Terry Francona in his book—that the 2011 club didn’t care about one another, all they needed to do was win one more game over the month of September that year and they still would’ve made the playoffs. You can’t blame a bad mix of players for the horrific final month of the season when they were widely regarded as the best team in baseball from May through August. They had two terrible months and they both happened to be in the first and last months of the season. If the players disliking one another wasn’t a problem in the summer, how did it turn into the biggest issue that led to their downfall?

Chemistry is not to be disregarded, but the media constantly harping on the dynamic of the personalities strikes as hunting for a narrative. If they play well, the new players and better communication will be seen as the “why” whether it’s accurate or not. Because the media no longer has to deal with Josh Beckett and his Neanderthal-like grunting and glaring; Adrian Gonzalez with his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to all things Boston; Carl Crawford and his “get me outta here” body language; and Valentine with his Valentineisms, their life is much easier and they don’t have to dread going to work. But so what? This isn’t about the media and the fans having players with a high wattage smile and charm; it’s not about having a manager who looks like he should be a manager, therefore is a manager even though his in-game strategies are widely regarded as terrible. It’s about performing and last night was an ominous sign for the third closer they’ve tried, Hanrahan, since Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave without so much as a whimper of protest and an unmistakable air of good riddance.

Closers blow games. It happens. Truth be told, the pitch that was called ball four on Nate McLouth could very easily (and probably should’ve) been called a strike, but big game closers have to overcome that and last night Hanrahan responded to not getting the call by throwing a wild pitch to let the Orioles tie the game, and then served up a meatball to Manny Machado to torch the thing completely.

Hanrahan is better than Bailey and Alfredo Aceves, but he’s never been in a situation like that of Boston where he’s expected to be a linchpin to the club’s success. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season. This isn’t a rebuilding Nationals team or the Pirates. There’s a lot of pressure on him. The starting rotation is woefully short and the aforementioned personnel and management issues haven’t gone away simply because of their attempts to weed out the problem people who are perceived to have led to the crumbling of the infrastructure. They may have been patched the personality gap to the satisfaction of the media at large, but the players also have to be able to play and play in Boston. Whether they can or not has yet to be determined in spite of the feeling of sunshine permeating the reconfigured room.

Chemistry only goes as far. If they don’t find some starting pitching and have a closer that can finish a game, this discussion on how much more positive the Red Sox are will be all they have to talk about in July because they certainly won’t be discussing preparations for a playoff run.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Keys to 2013: Baltimore Orioles

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Starting Pitching Key: Chris Tillman

A lack of command kept Tillman bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors. Acquired in the trade that just keeps on giving that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners, Tillman will turn 25 in April and after his performance following his July recall, may have taken the next step from prospect to legitimate big league starter. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a changeup, a slow curve, a slider and a cutter, Tillman has the variety of pitches to win 15 games and be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

He suffered from elbow inflammation that cost him two weeks in September. The Orioles weak spot in 2012 was their starting rotation and they’re not sneaking up on anyone this year. With Tillman and Dylan Bundy on the way, they could mitigate that issue while not having made any big acquisitions in the off-season.

Relief Pitching Key: Brian Matusz

The Orioles are giving Matusz a chance to regain his spot in the starting rotation, but I question whether their hearts are really in it. He’s shown flashes of being a useful starter, but after he was moved to the bullpen last season, he was a different pitcher. Perhaps it has to sink in that he’s better-served going through a lineup once and can cobble together a more successful career out of the bullpen. Starters—even bad ones—make much more money than good relievers, so for a 26-year-old, that’s not an easy thing to reconcile, but that’s not the Orioles’ problem and if they need Matusz more in the bullpen and he can help them be a better team, that’s where he needs to be.

Offensive Key: Manny Machado

Machado won’t turn 21 until July, but the potential and comparisons to Alex Rodriguez make him an offensive linchpin for the 2013 Orioles. He only walked 9 times in 202 plate appearances last season, but he doesn’t strike out. Once Machado matures and fills out, he’ll be a solid 210 pounds and hit the ball out of the park more frequently. The Orioles can pencil in what they’ll get from their power bats Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy—but Machado’s rapid development will significantly improve their runs scored.

Defensive Key: J.J. Hardy

Hardy won a long overdue Gold Glove for his work at shortstop last season and while he provides pop at the plate, his main contribution is with his glove. Because Hardy’s there, Machado will play third base and the Orioles will have what will possibly be the rangiest left side of the infield in baseball. It’s a comfort for the pitchers to know that they have someone covering the most ground on the infield at shortstop, allowing them to pitch to contact without worrying about routine grounders getting through.

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Baltimore Orioles vs New York Yankees—ALDS Preview and Predictions

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East) vs Baltimore Orioles (93-69; 2nd place, AL East; Wild Card Winner; Won Wild Card Game over Texas Rangers)

Keys for the Yankees: Rafael Soriano; hit the ball out of the park; get good starting pitching; hit the Orioles hard and early.

Soriano has been gutty, durable, mentally and physically tough, and reliable—aspects that no one expected nor thought him capable of in his first year-and-a-half as a Yankee. What he does in the post-season as a closer could be the difference between getting a 3-year deal for X amount of dollars and a 5-year deal for Y amount of dollars.

I don’t see the Yankees reliance on the home run as a “problem.” Were their hitters supposed to stop trying to hit home runs? I don’t know what the solution was. The absence/return of Brett Gardner is being made out as an important factor, but I don’t think it’s as important as it’s being portrayed. Teams with speed are criticized for their lack of power; teams with power are criticized for their lack of speed. It’s only noticeable when it’s not there and the main strategy isn’t working.

If the Yankees lose, it won’t be due to a lack of stolen bases, it will be due to a lack of home runs.

The Orioles have responded to every challenge and naysayer this entire season, but the Yankees have been here over a dozen times and the Orioles haven’t. If the Yankees pop them early, they might be able to shake them and get this over with before the Orioles realize what happened or get to game 3 and start thinking they’re going to win.

Keys for the Orioles: Get the game to Jim Johnson; hit home runs of their own; have a quick hook with the starters; don’t be “happy to be here.”

The simplistic and stupid “key” you might see on other sites with “analysis” of “stop Robinson Cano” is ridiculous. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to “stop” Cano. The best the Orioles can do is to keep the bases clear in front of him and not pitch to him. Cano is not going to see one good pitch to hit this whole series.

The Orioles starting pitching is questionable at best and manager Buck Showalter knows this. He can’t waste time and hope the starters find it because it might be 10-0 by the time it’s realized they don’t have it.

For the first time in forever there’s no distinct advantage for the Yankees with Mariano Rivera closing games. Now we don’t know who has the advantage. In the regular season, it was a wash; in the post-season, we don’t know. Soriano has been bad and Johnson’s never been there.

The Orioles, after so many years of dreadful baseball, are in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 when they lost to… the Yankees. Getting there isn’t enough. They can win and they have to believe that and act like it.

What will happen:

The Yankees stumbled in mid-September with injuries and slumps among their big bashers. CC Sabathia’s health was in question; Ivan Nova was pulled from the rotation; Phil Hughes was inconsistent; and David Robertson allowed some big homers and hits. Sabathia pitched well recently, but that doesn’t mean he’s “back.” I don’t trust Hughes; Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are pitchers to rely on.

Given everything on the line for Soriano and his shaky post-season history (3 homers allowed in 7.2 innings) I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him until he closes out a game without incident. Scott Boras is already planning Soriano’s contract opt-out and scouring MLB to see where he can steer his client to be a closer on a multi-year deal, but the dollar amount is contingent on October.

Alex Rodriguez cannot catch up to a good fastball anymore. There’s a mirror image aspect from The Natural between A-Rod and Orioles’ rookie third baseman Manny Machado. Can A-Rod do what Roy Hobbs did and have that moment in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career as happened in the movie? Or will he strike out as Hobbs did in the book?

Nick Swisher is also trying boost his free agent bona fides after years and years of non-performance; Ichiro Suzuki knows this might be his last chance at a ring. If the Yankees warriors don’t come through; if Soriano falters, they’re going to lose.

Mark Reynolds loves the spotlight and is a leader on and off the field. Machado, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Johnson—they don’t have the experience or history to know they’re not supposed to be doing what they’re doing; that they’re facing the “mighty” Yankees and should bow rather than hit them back. They’ve hit them back all season and Showalter has had a magic touch all year.

There’s a movement afoot from those who expected the Orioles to continue the decade-and-a-half of futility and embarrassment to justify their preseason prediction by continually referencing the poor run differential as a basis to chalk the Orioles’ 2012 success up to “luck”. These people—such as Keith Law—are more invested in their own egomania than enjoying the game of baseball. Rather than say, “Wow, the Orioles are a great story and it’s nice to see a storied franchise return to life,” we get, “They’re not a good team.” Why? It’s because those invested in stats who think reading a spreadsheet and regurgitating scouting terms they picked up along the way will replace a true, organic investment in the game by knowing its history and appreciating a story like that of the Orioles. The Orioles have had some luck, but they’ve also been opportunistic and clutch. A baseball fan understands this; a baseball opportunist and poser doesn’t.

It’s a great story.

And it’s going to get better when the Orioles take out the Yankees.

PREDICTION: ORIOLES IN FOUR

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American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Let’s look at the current construction of each club and make an honest appraisal of their 2012 status and 2013 future. We’ll start with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

As an excuse to justify how brilliant they are and that their numbers are never wrong, it’s en vogue for the stats-obsessed to repeatedly reference how “lucky” the Orioles are because of their negative run differential and that their record under the shaky metric of the Pythagorean Win Theorem has them 12 games worse than their actual record.

The Orioles have three major attributes: they hit the ball out of the park; they have a deep bullpen; and they have a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to push the right buttons. Bullpens fluctuate so there’s no guarantee that will continue into 2013; they’ll still have players who hit the ball out of the park; and Showalter is discussing a contract extension.

Their starting rotation are all in their mid-20s and they have young players Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado set to make contributions. The Orioles may take a step back next year, but they’ve turned the corner from a laughingstock where no player would choose to go unless they’re overpaid or without options to a viable destination with a plan and a chance to win. And they have a great shot at the playoffs this season.

New York Yankees

Anyone speculating about Joe Girardi’s job security is looking for a scapegoat and trying to distract from the real culprits in the team’s inconsistency and age: Brian Cashman and, to a lesser extent, the Steinbrenners.

If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re going to have to make structural changes to the roster. The constant discussion of their 10 games lead in July is glossing over the fact that they’ve had one good month—June when they went 20-7. Aside from that, they’re around a .500 team and making the playoffs in 2012 is in jeopardy. They’re old, expensive, and worn down. It remains to be seen what this veteran crew is going to have left in the tank even if they do make the playoffs

All of a sudden criticism has been extended to hitting coach Kevin Long for the slide of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, among others. Long might be gone, playoffs or not. The Yankees minor league system is dwindling in stature and legitimate prospects, thereby limiting what they’ll be able to acquire on the market; their open decision to try and reduce payroll to prevent luxury tax implications will also reduce their options to improve the team on the fly.

If they fall from the playoffs or are a one-and-done scenario, I’d fire Cashman not just for his incompetent trade for Michael Pineda and failure to address needs at the trading deadline, but also because I still have an issue with him having written a reference on team letterhead for either his girlfriend or a woman that was blackmailing him. His judgment on and off the field is highly questionable.

Maybe it’s time for Billy Eppler to get a chance or to even bring back Gene Michael for a 2-3 year run as GM.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are loaded with young pitching, aggressive in making trades, and build a different bullpen every year with the refuse of other clubs. Because they are operating under severe financial constraints and the scrutiny around them is limited, they can do what they want and live with a season of 83-79 or worse to get back to 95 wins the next season. This is what they are and how they’ll remain under the current management.

Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion hit his 40th home run last night. He joins Jose Bautista as a journeyman player who suddenly starting hitting the ball out of the park with a ridiculous frequency for the Blue Jays. But they’re still the same team that discovers a player for whom it clicked in his late-20s, and winds up with a win total between 75-83 and is in third or fourth place in the division.

Their manager John Farrell is in demand to take over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays don’t sound all that bothered about it. Their entire starting rotation has spent time on the disabled list for one malady or another. Their offense is flashy, but as inconsistent as their would-be star pitcher Brandon Morrow.

It’s just off in Toronto. They do noticeable things like make aggressive trades, hit homers and steal bases, but they don’t win. I don’t hear people referring to GM Alex Anthopoulos as a genius much anymore. What are they thinking North of the border when they spent so many years jumping at the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays like a child trying to recover a confiscated toy, then see the Red Sox come apart, the Yankees vulnerable, and the Rays beatable and that it’s the Orioles and not the Blue Jays who are taking advantage?

I thought the Blue Jays would take the next step this season, but that belief has been prevalent for a decade and they’re frozen in place. I’m not picking them again unless they make significant changes on and off the field.

Boston Red Sox

On some level, I understand what they did when they hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona. I’m not one who’s seeing their atrocious season as validating Francona is some bizarre way. He and Theo Epstein take as much responsibility if not more as Larry Lucchino and Valentine in 2012. They were trying to move forward with the roster as it was, make a few tweaks here and there, and see if it got better. It didn’t and it’s not Valentine’s fault.

They got rid of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, saved money and bolstered the farm system. But if you think they’re going to hire Farrell or whoever; sign a few free agents with the available money or make a big trade and they’ll be back to where they were as World Series favorites, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s a lot of work to do in Boston and it’s not going to be a short-term process. If they go half-in/half-out and try to straddle the line as they did last winter, expect more of the same in 2013.

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American League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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You’ll see all the “rumors” floating around, published in newspapers and discussed on blogs, websites and shows. Most of them are fabrications, blown out of proportion or strategically placed factoids by owners, GMs, player agents, players, media members and anyone else with a stake in getting a story out there.

Starting with the American League East, here’s a realistic analysis of what teams should do at the upcoming trading deadline and which players might be available.

New York Yankees

Of course the Yankees are buyers, but what they’re buying and are willing to sell is still unknown. GM Brian Cashman has said he’s not going after any big name starting pitchers. Is that because they don’t want to trade prospects or because their prospects have lost luster throughout baseball?

The Yankees have crafted a case study in diminishing the value of their lauded minor leaguers. They managed to sell their one big asset—Jesus Montero—for a lemon in Michael Pineda and a bent “key” Jose Campos. (Still no updates on the condition of Campos’s elbow, by the way. Have they buried him somewhere?)

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances was demoted from Triple A to Double A because he couldn’t throw strikes.

Teams would take both, but not as the centerpiece for a notable veteran player. As part of a package? Absolutely.

They’d be foolish not to at least check in on Cole Hamels. They’re a more likely suitor for Ryan Dempster. I’d steer clear of Jason Vargas and Wandy Rodriguez (not good ideas for Yankee Stadium); Matt Garza is intriguing buy costly.

They need bullpen help with Grant Balfour, Rafael Betancourt, Brandon League and Joe Thatcher targets to consider.

If I were Cashman, I’d call Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers (a former Cashman assistant) and tell him to hold off on trading Justin Upton in-season because the Yankees will want him over the winter to replace Nick Swisher.

Baltimore Orioles

They should stand pat making only negligible and cheap additions.

While it’s a great story that the Orioles are 45-40 and the doubters of some of the moves made by Dan Duquette have been proven wrong (Jason Hammel has been one of the great, under-the-radar pickups this season), they have to weigh the chances of a playoff spot vs surrendering too much to get mid-season help.

Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy are off the table in trades.

If they can get a starter and an outfielder simply by taking on salary and not giving up much to get them, they should do it. Carlos Quentin for the outfield and Joe Blanton to eat innings. Apart from that, they shouldn’t go crazy for a longshot.

Tampa Bay Rays

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for the Rays this year. They’re banking their hopes on Evan Longoria’s return—whenever that’s going to be. The starting pitching that was supposed to be an embarrassment of riches that the rest of baseball envied has fizzled. I expected B.J. Upton to have a massive statistical season in his contract year, but he’s continued being B.J. Upton: aggravating, inconsistent, lazy with flashes of brilliance.

Comebacks such as the one they pulled off last September don’t happen very often.

They should stand pat and listen to offers for Upton.

Boston Red Sox

Fan demand might force them to do something drastic and it’s not going to sell if Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino pull the old Theo Epstein trick of being in on ginormous deals that never come to pass. The media and radio talk shows are going to want something significant done.

They need to ignore the pleas and stand pat.

This team, bottom line, isn’t very good. They’re dysfunctional in the clubhouse; there’s a leadership vacuum in the front office with multiple voices vying for influence; and their veterans haven’t performed. Trading prospects for a rental starting pitcher or even one that they’ll be able to keep in Garza makes no sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

There’s talk that they’re buyers. There’s talk that they’re sellers. There’s talk that they’re both.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is in on everything and they have the prospects to do something major. Desperate for starting pitching and holding out hope for a late-season playoff run, it’s something to consider when making a move on Garza or Wandy Rodriguez. They’re not far away from being a legitimate contender now and definitely in 2013 and beyond.

But they’ve been on that verge multiple times for the past 10 years and nothing’s happened.

I don’t get the impression that the Brewers are all-in on cleaning house and dealing Zack Greinke. In fact, I’m thinking that unless they totally come apart over the next three weeks, they won’t move him. They Blue Jays would probably be better off shifting focus toward a Randy Wolf or bringing Shaun Marcum back because they’re cheaper.

I’d try to get rid of Adam Lind now that he’s hitting again.

Edwin Encarnacion’s name popped up as being in play. He’s having his career year and still makes mental gaffes that can aggravate the most patient manager. If someone is willing give up a pitcher for him, then do it in a mutually advantageous deal. The Pirates have extra pitching and could use a bat, but I’d be concerned about messing with their current chemistry.

I’d buy or sell within reason with nothing too explosive.

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