Manny Ramirez’s Last(?) Fight

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Manny Ramirez will either wind up like Muhammad Ali or George Foreman. With Ali, his final comeback attempt (not counting a last-last, this is definitely the last fight in 1981 in which he lost to journeyman Trevor Berbick) came when he took a ferocious beating from a reluctant, in-his-prime heavyweight champ Larry Holmes. Ali went to great lengths to show what great shape he was in prior to the fight by getting back to the weight he fought at when he defeated Foreman in Zaire. But the fact that he was in shape didn’t matter. Holmes battered him in a perfunctory manner and, by the end, was screaming at the referee to stop the fight before he seriously injured Ali. Ali certainly didn’t need the money nor the increased number of blows to his already damaged brain, but he couldn’t stop himself from seeking the limelight and that one last shot at glory doing the one thing he truly knew how to do better than anyone else.

With Foreman, he was ridiculed when he came out of retirement and is still looked at with a jaundiced gaze by saying God told him to do it. He was overweight and old, but the laughter ended when he showed he still had the punching power and savvy to win fights. He put up a great show when losing to Evander Holyfield and eventually knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the title he’d lost twenty years earlier to Ali in 1974.

With Ramirez, he is returning after a stint hitting against, in boxing parlance, tomato cans in Taiwan. In Taiwan, they’re professionals and they’re talented, but they’re not on a level with a good Double A team in North America. While there, he was hitting subpar pitching in accumulating a .352 average, .422 OBP, and eight homers in 49 games. Abruptly leaving his Taiwanese team—the EDA Rhinos—Ramirez was rumored to be heading to Japan before deciding he’d like another shot with an MLB team. No one seemed interested until the Rangers decided to take a chance on him. The question is, can he help them?

Ramirez hasn’t played with a major league team since he went 1 for 17 for the Rays in 2011 before walking away and subsequently being caught failing another PED test. Amid much fanfare in an otherwise dreary off-season for the Athletics in the winter of 2011-2012, he was signed to a minor league contract. At that point, the A’s were embarking on another rebuilding project and for half the season, played as poorly as predicted before a sudden hot streak vaulted them into the playoffs. No one knew they could achieve those heights when they signed Ramirez and they needed him to sell a few seats with the mere hint of him being in the big leagues as a sideshow. In a best case scenario, he’d attract a few fans and hit well enough for the A’s to trade him to a contender (because not even Billy Beane thought they’d contend in 2012); worst case, they’d release him. He batted .302 in 63 at bats for Triple A Sacramento with no homers. The A’s released him last June and he went to Taiwan.

Now he’s back.

Can the Rangers expect anything from him? Like the decision on the part of the A’s to sign him, this is a test case for team benefit. The Rangers are contenders and need a righty bat. The trade deadline is July 31st and the Rangers are aggressive and active in improving their team. With a month to go before the time comes when they’ll have to make an acquisition along the lines of Mike Morse to boost their righty power, it’s cheaper and zero risk to look at Ramirez and get an answer as to whether he can still hit. Like Ali’s last fight, it could be a “would you stop it already?” moment. Or it could be an out-of-shape former star who shows he can still perform as Foreman did. The odds are it’s the former and even if the evidence is clear that Ramirez needs to hang it up, he probably won’t. Either way, there’s no risk for the Rangers to have a look.

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Draft Day Rant Understated

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I’m not going into my usual rant about the attempts by Major League Baseball to turn the draft into an extravaganza along the lines of what the NFL does. The differences are obvious and conveniently glossed over. The most glaring being:

  • The game of football from college to pro is essentially the same.
  • The players are recognizable to a vast majority of people who follow both versions of the sport.
  • It’s easier to project what a player is going to be when he gets to the NFL than it is for a baseball player transitioning from amateur to pro.
  • And in the NFL (and NBA for that matter) the player is walking out of the amateurs and into the highest level of play he can achieve—there are no minor leagues and evolutionary climb along with the favoritism that’s shown to a higher draft pick who has a lot of money and hype invested in him in the other sports.

In addition, most of the “scouting reports” you get from the “experts” in the media is regurgitated trash that they’ve heard from someone else or have accumulated by watching a five minute clip of a player and using buzzwords and catchy phrases designed to make the statement sound in-depth when it’s anything but.

The most refreshing thing I read today regarding the draft came from a GM the stat guys have grown to loathe, Dan Duquette of the Orioles. Duquette was asked about the draft age son of the player he signed for the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez, and Duquette replied, “I don’t know much about Manny’s boy.”

If it were a GM with a pretentious reputation to protect like Billy Beane or a media draft “expert” like Keith Law, a load of facts, figures and analysis would’ve been rattled off as if it was only a matter of flipping through brain files, finding Manny Ramirez Jr. and providing a biography, a comparison to his dad, his positives and negatives, and projection of what he can be. Most of it would’ve come from the aforementioned brief clip of film, information from someone else that was memorized because they knew they’d be asked about him, or foundational statements that couldn’t be proven or disproven due to their all-encompassing randomness.

Here’s the truth: while a GM for a big league club follows the amateur players who are the potential high draft picks, the grunt work is left to the lower level scouts who find the players. They send information up to the cross-checkers to sift through the recommendations and verify what the scouts are saying. It’s then sent up through the ranks to the upper level of the organization to give a yay or nay to the top picks. Once it gets down to the later rounds, the players who aren’t in the top echelon become names in a barrel with some kind of skill or attribute—a searing fastball, a good eye, speed, home run power, a great glove—that makes it worth drafting them knowing that a player drafted from beyond the tenth round probably isn’t going to make it past Single A and if he does, it’s a fluke.

Duquette’s personality (or lack thereof) isn’t such that his ego has to be stroked with others marveling about what he “knows” because he’s perfectly willing to admit what he doesn’t know about the son of a player he himself gave $160 million to join the Red Sox. There is simply too much for a GM to do running the organization to watch every single draftable player and come to an assessment. There aren’t enough hours in the day. The GM will go and look at the top tier players, but apart from that, it’s left to the underlings. It reflects on the GM who he hires to be the scouting director and the methods in which they find players, but to blame the GM or give him credit? Not even the scouting directors are able to look at every single player past the projected first ten rounds and come to an ironclad conclusion as to what a player will be. It comes down to talent, development, opportunity and luck.

You’ll hear a lot of names today and vanilla scouting reports from the draft-watchers that they got from a guidebook, magazine, website or via the whispers of someone who’s supposed to know what the players can do. Most of those names you’ll never hear again. Then we’ll start the process all over again next year with the same wasted time and energy listening to people who are making money quantifying the unquantifiable exercise known as the MLB Draft.

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Greinke vs. Quentin: Tale of the Tape

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Zack Greinke

6’2”, 195 pounds

vs.

Carlos Quentin

6’2”, 240 pounds

There were multiple levels of ludicrous actions and comments preceding, during and after the Dodgers-Padres brawl in which Quentin charged the mound after being hit by a pitch from Greinke. The most entertaining/laughable (in a tragicomic sort of way) portion of Quentin’s and Greinke’s altercation is that their fighting styles were similar to two semi-brain damaged rams who decided that running into one another was superior to squaring off and trying to throw a punch.

Let’s look at the participants.

Carlos Quentin

There was an angry and indignant reply to Quentin’s decision to charge the mound. There are players who are babies about being hit by pitches and react badly whenever a pitch is anywhere close to them. Manny Ramirez was like that. For some, it might be in part to try and intimidate the pitcher from throwing inside or it might be due to them not being accustomed to pitchers brushing them back. Regardless, Quentin is not one of those players. In fact, if there’s a worthy heir apparent to Don Baylor in today’s game, it’s Quentin. Baylor would regularly lead the American League in getting hit by pitches because he refused to move when the ball was coming toward him. He took the hit and walked to first base. Quentin can be counted on for 20 or so HBPs per season and has led the Major Leagues in getting hit twice. Last season, he played in 86 games for the Padres and still managed to lead the big leagues in getting hit. There weren’t any brawls involving Quentin in 2012. He usually goes to first base without complaint.

With Greinke, Quentin had been hit by him twice before; there’s a history of glaring and near brawls between the two; and it looked as if Quentin was hesitant before charging the mound and attacked when Greinke cursed at him. It’s pure foolishness from people who never played baseball before to wonder why Quentin charged the mound. Much like a stat guy questioning as to why a hitter swung at a 3-2 pitch just off the plate and struck out rather than taking the walk, it’s total ignorance to the reality of the speed of the game. A hitter has a fraction of a second to decide whether or not to swing the bat, take the pitch, or duck. Of course, he’s not thinking about it. It’s automatic and the same was true for Quentin’s decision to step toward the mound. Once his manhood was involved as Greinke essentially challenged him, what choice did he have? In the macho world of baseball, when the overt invitation was made to fight, Quentin had to fully commit or look like a wimp to the rest of baseball and possibly subject himself to beanballs with impunity for the rest of the season.

Greinke probably wasn’t throwing at Quentin and after tempers cool, I’m sure Quentin would admit that privately, but the situation snowballed after Quentin’s visceral response and by then he had no choice but to go after Greinke.

Zack Greinke

For all of Matt Kemp’s ranting and challenging of Quentin after the game culminating with a confrontation in the clubhouse runway, Greinke is probably more at fault for this than Quentin and Greinke is definitely responsible for breaking his own collarbone.

Greinke is willing to pitch inside and with a one-run lead he more than likely wasn’t trying to hit Quentin, but once Quentin took a step toward the mound, Greinke could’ve just waved him off and perhaps Quentin wouldn’t have charged the mound with such fervor. The situation could’ve been defused, but wasn’t.

As for the fighting “style,” Greinke’s not a small man at 6’2” and 195 pounds, but to willingly run into the 6’2”, 240 pound Quentin and then wonder how he broke his collarbone is idiotic. This was a case of ballplayers not being fighters and not knowing what to do when the amount of time they have to tussle is limited to how long it takes for the rest of the benches to empty and engulf them. Greinke might’ve been better-served to bob and weave with his hands up in a boxing position or sidestep Quentin and try a leg sweep. Anything would’ve been a strategic improvement over running into each other like a pair of lobotomized Neanderthals.

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Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy—Book Review

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It’s a fine line between revenge and clarification. In his new book detailing the eight years he spent as manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona straddles the territory between the two. In Francona: The Red Sox Years written with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona does so with a mostly objective point of view and occasional digs at those who sought to undermine him and diminish his substantial accomplishments during his time at the helm.

The book functions as a biography, telling the story of Terry Francona’s father Tito Francona’s Major League career; the younger Francona’s life of frequent address changes as his father switched teams; the experience of hanging around the clubhouses with his dad; his own playing career as a college star and first round draft pick; the injuries that sabotaged him and relegated him to journeyman whose lifelong dream ended at age 31. When he became a manager in the White Sox system, he was making the same innocent climb that players make first running a single A club in Indiana, then spending three years in Double A. The second year was notable because it provided Francona a crash course in a media circus managing basketball star Michael Jordan during his yearlong break from the NBA and foray into baseball.

By the time he was 38, he was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997. The Phillies were a bad team and Francona, by his own account, didn’t do a very good job running the club. Fired after four seasons, he seemed more relieved than unhappy. Following the firing after the 2000 season, he burnished his resume by working in the Indians’ front office in 2001, as the bench coach for Buck Showalter with the Rangers in 2002, and Ken Macha with the Athletics in 2003.

While with the Athletics, Francona received a first hand look at his future in two different ways, neither of which he likely saw when he was traveling with his dad, playing or working his way up as a field boss: the general manager of the new millennium was openly interfering with the way in which a manager ran the games. All through 2003, Macha was constantly fending off the regular “suggestions” (more like interrogations) that the A’s manager was forced to endure from the newly minted star of Moneyball, Billy Beane. Also in 2003, Francona was on the opposite bench when the Red Sox, then managed by Grady Little and in year one of their remaking with Theo Epstein as their GM, came from 2 games to 0 behind to defeat the Athletics in a dramatic 5 games series. It was a glimpse into the future for Francona with the tentacles of chance gripping him, Little, Epstein and the Red Sox, sometimes around their throats.

In the very next series, Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees cost him the job and opened it for Francona. Francona, ironically, was friends with Little for years and they even lived together when Francona served as Little’s bench coach in the Arizona Fall League in 1992. Also ironically, Francona—jokingly or not—told the Red Sox during the arduous interview process that he would have taken Pedro out of game 7 of the ALCS as Little was supposed to do. The interview process included written tests and games of the computer simulated baseball game “Diamond Mind” against Epstein’s assistants to see how Francona would react to game circumstances. Did Francona tell the Red Sox people what he knew they wanted to hear in terms of Little or would he have acquiesced to the demands of the numbers and ignored that the Red Sox bullpen didn’t have that one big arm in the bullpen that the manager could unequivocally trust in lieu of his ace?

Only Francona knows, but given the old-school sensibilities he exhibited, it’s not as cut-and-dried as implied that he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing Little did—the thing that got him fired.

This clash of civilizations is a key contention in this book and the books written by other managers such as Joe Torre with the Yankees who were unceremoniously relieved of their duties after immeasurable success that had not been enjoyed by their respective clubs for decades prior to their arrivals. The new landscape in baseball makes it necessary for managers to agree to listen to information that may or may not have real world validity in an exercise of going along to get along. Some managers like Joe Maddon embrace it; others, like Torre and Little, rebel against it with a head shake and bemused smirk; still others like Francona and Joe Girardi listen to the advice and try to incorporate it where applicable.

The fundamental civil war makes being a big league manager in today’s game an exercise in tightrope walking by maintaining respect with the players and not appear as a puppet while accessing and sifting through the reams of information burying them like corn in a silo. Torre, in fact, had his own issues magnified due to the presence of the big market rival using stats to build a club that was cheaper and better than his Yankees were. The Red Sox were Patient X in this experiment and where the entire virus got its start.

Little unabashedly ignored the advice. Francona was nuanced as he ignored some of it too, rebelling when he couldn’t tolerate it and telling Epstein to have his people back off a bit.

If anyone has the breadth of experience to be a manager and do his job without the overbearing interference of a staff of numbers crunchers and find methods to meld the highly paid egos, deal with the media, and make the players perform on the field, it’s Francona. The numbers crunchers that managers are forced to endure today may never have picked up a baseball and would be swallowed alive after two days of inhabiting the same space as Manny Ramirez, yet they see fit to question, criticize and send suggestions that eventually take the tone of orders.

For a pure baseball lifer, it’s a conundrum and necessary concession. Any manager who doesn’t adapt to the way baseball is run today is not going to get a job.

The battles he fought as manager were mostly with a front office that in the ownership suite didn’t appreciate the job he was doing. Francona was lowballed in his contract when he was initially hired and was saddled with the onus that he was taking orders from his bosses in every single aspect of on-field decisionmaking (this was right after the publication of Moneyball), and that he was selected because he was one of the few managers for whom Curt Schilling wanted to play. The Red Sox were closing in on acquiring Schilling simultaneously to hiring Francona. The Red Sox and Francona deny this, but the denial is formulated on a shaky premise. They didn’t decide out of the blue to get Schilling and it would certainly help to grease the negotiations if he knew he was getting a manager he wanted to play for instead of, say, Bobby Valentine.

The book doesn’t discuss significant conflict between Francona and Epstein in spite of Epstein making Francona’s life difficult with the overbearing and constant presence of the GM and his youthful assistants, or with acquisitions of the likes of David Wells, but there’s an unexplored and unmentioned tension that Francona may not admit or realize existed between him and Epstein.

Epstein, in fact, comes off as profoundly immature when the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS and his assistants decided that he couldn’t be left alone. Did they think he was suicidal? He couldn’t be left alone? It was a baseball game that they lost badly in a series they were about to lose, not life or death.

Rather than jump off the Green Monster, Epstein got drunk on a friend’s couch and passed out. As the GM was drowning his sorrows, the manager who was supposed to be manipulated by the “geniuses” in the front office was calmly saying that his team would show up to play and the series wasn’t over. While Epstein has continually denied the story of breaking furniture in Nicaragua when the Red Sox lost the bidding for free agent Cuban Jose Contreras to the Yankees, this type of story makes me believe that maybe he really did break the furniture in a tantrum that a 20-something is known to throw when he doesn’t get his way.

Reading between the lines, Epstein comes off looking immature, arrogant and self-centered.

The owners John Henry and Tom Werner, along with CEO Larry Lucchino are presented as the nemeses of Francona with Epstein serving as a buffer between the manager and the out-of-touch front office, but the book—again in an unsaid manner—presents Lucchino as the hatchet man carrying out the edicts of the two owners. More a devil’s advocate and overseer, Lucchino didn’t harass Epstein and Francona as much as he dared to question them and want an answer other than a spiraling stack of sludge that would placate a less-informed front office person or owner.

Francona’s health problems were much more serious than has ever been publicly revealed and his life was in jeopardy due to blood clots. He still endures terrible pain because of his wounds from a long playing career and the well-known issues with deep vein thrombosis. His use of pain medication was a point of contention and weaponized by someone with the Red Sox to impugn Francona’s reputation and justify his firing as if he was an addict whose use of the medicines, combined with the separation from his wife, led to a lack of focus allowing the players to run roughshod over all sense of propriety and culminating in the beer and chicken “scandal” that engulfed Francona and his team during their collapse in September 2011. The book explains Francona’s use of the medication in an evenhanded manner.

The players took advantage of Francona’s old-school demeanor in letting the players run their clubhouse. It’s an excuse to say that the beer and chicken had little to do with the collapse. If the players—especially pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey—had been in better shape, perhaps they wouldn’t have pitched as poorly as they did down the stretch and the team wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in the first place.

What Francona getting and losing the job hinged on was chance and the slippery slope of “if-thens.”  Would he have gotten the nod had Bernie Williams’s looping single in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS fallen into the glove of Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox held on to win the game and advanced to the World Series? Would he have retained the job if Dave Roberts hadn’t been safe by a hair on his stolen base in the ninth inning of game 4 in 2004, sparking the inconceivable four game comeback? Would he have lost the job if the Red Sox had been able to win two more games in September of 2011?

The final portion of the book centers around Francona’s estrangement from the Red Sox and his continued and understandably obsessive questioning of everyone as to who leaked to the media that he had a problem with prescription medications. Lucchino is alleged to have said he was going to find out who it was, but never did. Henry, the detached Dracula whose presence was rare and awkward, contributed his beloved stats and was notably out-of-touch in his attempts to get a grip on his crumbling would-be dynasty, had no reply for Francona. Werner was too busy trying to bolster his own bona fides and overemphasize his influence.

The book is not a vengeful and vicious, “I’m gonna get back at the guys who screwed me,” as Torre’s, at times, was. It tells Francona’s side in a context to put him in the best possible light, to be sure; he’s more calculating than an “Aw shucks,” baseball man who’s happiest at the ballpark and with the players. Clearly he’s hurt by the way his tenure ended especially considering he accomplished something in winning a World Series that hadn’t happened for 86 years prior to his arrival, then he turned around and won another title three years later. The concerns about his perception might have been the catalyst to jump back in the ring in a situation that isn’t ready-made to win immediately with the Indians. He took a job while the jobs were still being offered.

Francona gets his story out there, highlights how difficult the job of Red Sox manager truly is, and that it’s a borderline miracle that he: A) lasted as long as he did; and B) had the success he had while maintaining some semblance of sanity.

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A-Rod Upstages the Super Bowl

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Jim Harbaugh. John Harbaugh. Ray Lewis. Colin Kaepernick. Randy Moss. Joe Flacco. And…Alex Rodriguez?

The easiest thing to do in this latest media firestorm surrounding A-Rod would be to set up a table in New Orleans at or around Super Bowl XLVII and let him join in with the frenzy to save time and airfare for everyone. A-Rod has a talent for jumping to the forefront of big events in which he is not participating. In 2007, during the Red Sox-Rockies World Series, it was announced that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankees contract. Blame for the “mistake” in timing was doled on agent Scott Boras. Because Boras is seen as the epitome of evil and a Svengali who latched his claws into the fatherless A-Rod at a young age and unduly influenced him to make decisions he wouldn’t have made if left to his own devices, it’s easy to turn him into the fall guy whether it’s true or not.

Boras no longer represents A-Rod and his problems have gotten worse, not better.

The latest is A-Rod’s name popping up in the notes of a shady anti-aging clinic in Miami—NY Times Story.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s innocent. We can ask the simplest questions: Why would anyone be stupid enough to write the actual name of the client instead of using a code? Why don’t these players just get up and go to Mexico, Switzerland, Iceland, Japan, Mars, Jupiter or anywhere they can simply do what they need to do using a false name, pay in cash and come back with no paper trail and no one the wiser? Why would A-Rod continue to poke the eyes of anyone and everyone for (considering his plummet in the past several years) what amounted to zero return?

A-Rod will be referred to as arrogant, but that may not be the case. It may be insecurity and, in a weird way, a certain nobility of trying to live up to the money the Yankees are paying him by taking PEDs to be able to perform. There will be comparisons to Lance Armstrong, but as far as we know, A-Rod has never wantonly destroyed the lives of those who tried to expose him in an effort to prop up a front of philanthropy and honor. The only person he’s succeeded in destroying is himself. He’s not as arrogant or stupid as he is oblivious.

That obliviousness hasn’t extended to ignorance of reality. He’s still cognizant of plausible deniability and legal ramifications. You won’t see A-Rod sitting in front of Congress denying PED use and wagging his finger in their faces a la Rafael Palmeiro; you won’t see him on 60 Minutes like Roger Clemens. You might see him pleading his case to the media as Barry Bonds did once a sufficient amount of time has passed and he thinks it might be safe to argue his Hall of Fame worthiness. For right now, A-Rod is smart enough to keep quiet and lawyer up.

Major League Baseball itself is again left running into one another like some slapstick comedy worthy of Benny Hill, trying to spin their inability to get in front of these stories and cleaning up the mess after the fact. They knew about this Miami clinic and were investigating it in the hopes that a bolt of lightning out of the sky would provide them with cause to suspend the players who used its services. They were unsuccessful.

A-Rod is the glossiest name on the list, but it’s no shock for him to wind up in the middle of incidents such as these. Gio Gonzalez, whose career has taken a wondrous jump to “ace” is on the list. Nelson Cruz was a journeyman until age 28 when he hit 33 homers is on the list. Melky Cabrera we already know about. Yasmani Grandal is a yet-to-be-established kid and is on the list. Bartolo Colon was trying to hang on and is on the list.

The fine line between developing and using outlawed “helpers” to improve is no longer blurred. It’s gone. Every player is under scrutiny. Which is the real Gonzalez? Did he naturally evolve from his initial opportunities in the big leagues in 2008-2009 when he showed flashes of great talent with terrible results to the rising star in 2010-2011 and then third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012? Or was it in 2009-2010 when someone whispered in his ear that if he went to this Miami clinic, they’d provide him with potions to send his career into the stratosphere?

Any statistical evidence is presented with the benefit of hindsight and all players are suspect.

For A-Rod, we’ll never know if everything was a creation of PEDs or if he was using them at age 25? 28? 30? 35? to perform and make a ton of money; to maintain; to return from injury and live up to his contract. The one thing he has in common with Armstrong is that he’s not credible in anything he says even if, at some point, he decides to “confess.”

A-Rod’s career with the Yankees is over. The Yankees are said to be poring over his contract to try and find a way to keep from paying him. As much as A-Rod is reviled by contemporaries, the MLB Players Association will fight for him to get every single penny on that contract from now until the Rapture and even then, they’ll have to stand in front of Jesus and find a reason not to give A-Rod his money. And they’ll lose. (When I say Jesus, I mean Christ. Not a distant A-Rod relative who did his bidding as a human shield.)

What will happen is this:

MLB will try and find a way to suspend A-Rod and these other players and fail.

The Yankees will try and get out of paying him and fail.

A-Rod won’t agree to the floated insurance scheme that a doctor says he can’t play again.

A-Rod won’t play again for the Yankees; they’ll come to an agreement to pay him off, perhaps deferring some of it so they have cash on hand and it’s not a lump sum payment.

A team like the Marlins, A’s or Rays will sign him against the wishes of MLB. A-Rod will repeat the 2011-2012 performances of Manny Ramirez and provide nothing other than aggravation and a media circus.

Some other embarrassment will occur with A-Rod because that’s like the sun coming up—once you see it happen every day of your life, you just sort of expect it.

A-Rod will epitomize the ending in the novel version of The Natural in which Roy Hobbs doesn’t redeem himself and lives his life wondering what might have been. This isn’t Hollywood, but the ending is just as predictable. Unlike Hobbs, A-Rod will be very wealthy when he fades into oblivion with a career blotted out by a giant asterisk of his own making. There are no excuses and no one left to blame anymore.

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The Red Sox Hire Pedro Martinez To…Um….Do Stuff(?)

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If a baseball organization is viewed as a small society, then the resident sociopath of Red Sox Nation from 2000 through 2008 was Manny Ramirez. Manny continually received passes for his baseball-related crimes of propriety and decorum because, when he wanted to be, he was an unstoppable force at the plate. On a lesser scale, the moderate troublemaker—i.e. the person who bent the rules and was allowed to bend the rules because the nation couldn’t function without him—was Pedro Martinez.

In terms of on-field contributions to the club, Pedro was more valuable than Manny was because he was all but impossible to replace when he was in his heyday. Pedro was unhittable for the majority of a six year period from 1998-2003 and almost singlehandedly carried mostly pedestrian teams to the playoffs in 1998, 1999 and even 2003. When he began to fade, he was still very good but not worth the money he was demanding as a free agent after the 2004 season—ironically the first year in his tenure when he was a background performer and they won the World Series.

The Red Sox didn’t sign him to an extension and let him leave as a free agent to the Mets. As it turned out, this was wise. In some respects, there was relief that he was gone. The relief wasn’t on a level of “finally” as it was when the club had had enough of Manny and traded him away at mid-season 2008, but it made the franchise’s life easier not to have to endure the behind-the-scenes, passive aggressive tantrums Pedro threw on a regular basis by showing up to spring training late; saying stupid things publicly about how the organization disrespected him; contract complaints; media dustups; and simultaneously proud, arrogant and insecure reactions to the concept that Curt Schilling was replacing him as the team ace. It certainly benefited them not having to pay for three years of diminishing effectiveness and stints on the disabled list while clinging to sway for what he was.

Manny made the Red Sox work environment uncomfortable, but because he was so productive the team let him get away with petulance, laziness, fake injuries, and disrespect to authority figures. It was only when he turned to violence with the traveling secretary that enough was enough and he was moved.

It’s not out of the realm to wonder whether the hiring of Pedro would be similar to hiring Manny. Both were difficult to deal with and left on bad terms. Neither ever put forth the image of a person who had any interest in working in a front office. Manny’s transgressions were far worse, but they were in the same context. This week, Pedro was named the special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington. What that undefined job entails is anyone’s guess. Do they want him to actually do anything? Is Pedro going to guide young players? Or is this to garner some positive press with a link to the club’s glory days as a reaction to the skeletons and scars being dragged out and sliced open in public with Terry Francona’s new book, The Red Sox Years by the former manager and Dan Shaughnessy?

My review of the book will be coming this week. Without giving too much away, from top-to-bottom the organization comes out appearing, to be kind, dysfunctional. As much as Pedro and Manny contributed to the good they accomplished, both were difficult to handle. So why would the front office want to bring Pedro onboard for any reason other than improved coverage and to hypnotize fans by subliminally reminding them of the glory days as if the heroes of the past will beget a repeat in the future?

This smacks of a PR maneuver with Tom Werner’s lust for “star” power; John Henry’s detached, ham-handed view of what will pander to his constituents; and Larry Lucchino left to be the bad guy and implement the scheme. Cherington, much like last year, is a workaday functionary to whom they’re handing tools and telling him to build something and not providing a blueprint or mandate other than warning him that it had better come out good.

What created the Red Sox from 2003 to most of 2011 wasn’t a desperate grasping at the past—a past that resulted in 86 years of futility in the quest for a championship. It was a decided departure from what the team did previously by using cutting edge techniques statistically, a business plan, and a ruthlessness in dispatching of people who no longer fit into the template. That included Pedro.

After a disastrous year with Bobby Valentine, they brought back John Farrell because he was respected and liked by everyone and was part of the successful regime. It’s being ignored that he’s not a good manager, which is what they need more than someone they like and who brings back warm, fuzzy feelings of what was.

They’re putting forth the “back to the way we did it” dynamic with Cherington presented as “in charge.” They’re signing character people and returning to the developmental methods that yielded Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. But like the decision to hire Pedro, there’s a phoniness about it; a tone of “this is what the public wants” instead of “this is what will work.”

A fanbase such as that of the Red Sox, as loyal as they are to those who have performed for them, is undoubtedly happy that Pedro’s back in the fold. The joy will last for a while, then the fans will forget while Cherington has to find activities for his new assistant. The fans aren’t privy nor particularly interested in that. He’s supposedly going to do a lot of “things” and Cherington compared his presence to that of Jason Varitek. The difference is that Varitek wasn’t a pain and Pedro was. Varitek has an eye on a career as a manager or front office person and Pedro doesn’t. Varitek was hired because they wanted him in the organization. Pedro looks like he was hired as a placating gesture to the fans who are sitting on Metro Boston reading Francona’s book and taking the side of their beloved Tito because that’s what they want to do. He’s gone and the people who remain presided over a 2012 travesty that the fans aren’t sure is over. In fact, it’s just beginning. That realization might be clear to the front office and they’re trying everything they can to cloud the horrifying reality.

As great at Pedro was, he undermined manager Jimy Williams and chafed at Williams’s disciplinary procedures when Pedro was clearly wrong. He embarrassed interim manager and former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. He was initially supportive of Grady Little, then backtracked on that support when Little was dumped. He was a handful for Francona in the two years they spent together.

Is Pedro going to suddenly become an organizational mouthpiece and preach to players the value of being a company man when he wouldn’t do it himself while the team was paying him $15 million a year?

This is a hiring for show. There’s no harm in it and while it won’t matter because Pedro isn’t going to be doing much of anything, it’s indicative that the organization is clawing at the the wrong past. They’re hiring and acquiring based on public perception and not on what’s going to help the team. It’s micro-meaningless and macro-meaningful at the same time and it’s a bad sign for where they’re headed. It’s a pretentious signal that something has changed when it hasn’t changed at all.

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New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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Hanley Ramirez’s Brother From Another Mother…And Father

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Hanley Ramirez and Manny Ramirez are basically the same person with Hanley never putting up the numbers that Manny did to justify his self-centered and petulant behaviors.

Hanley, like Manny, forced his way out of his playing venue and wound up with the Dodgers. Manny did it with years of abuse and borderline acts that would’ve gotten him put into jail had they been perpetrated in society and not in the insular world of baseball. Hanley did it with constant tantrums and long stretches of lackadaisical play. Also like Manny, Hanley is going to the Dodgers and will go on a tear for the rest of the season, playing the part of the good teammate and leaving the team, fans and media members to wonder why such a wonderful, hard-working individual was so misunderstood by his prior employer.

Neither player has been misunderstood.

Let’s look at the trade of Hanley Ramirez and what to expect going forward.

Pennies on the dollar

Given his talent and that the Marlins were so resistant to trading him for this long, getting Nathan Eovaldi and a minor leaguer in exchange for Hanley and Randy Choate is a letdown and the equivalent of tossing their hands in the air and saying, “Get this guy outta here already.” Eovaldi has good stuff and that the Dodgers traded a member of their starting rotation is indicative of the confidence that Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti feels in getting a starter (Ryan Dempster?) in the near future. Hanley was once a top ten player in baseball. Now, he’s not.

The problem a player has when he has a toxic reputation is that when he doesn’t play as well as he once did, the ancillary aspects are no longer explainable. With Manny, the phrase “Manny being Manny” was a term of endearment for those who didn’t have to deal with him on a daily basis; once he became unproductive and still behaved like it was his divine right to be an obnoxious, entitled jerk because he could hit, nobody wanted him around.

I didn’t think the Marlins were going to trade Hanley in-season and wrote that. That they did move him says there are serious structural changes coming to the Marlins and that they felt they had to get rid of him, period.

For all the incidents with Hanley (the ones that we know about), there was a constant circuit breaker in any attempts to discipline him: owner Jeffrey Loria. Loria treated Hanley like his son, enabled him and sabotaged his managers, front office people and advisers who either wanted to get rid of Hanley or do something significant to rein him in. Former players who confronted Hanley like Dan Uggla were dispatched while Hanley was the one Marlins star who was rewarded with a lucrative contract. Like Mike Tyson was coddled by Cus D’Amato with the refrain to Teddy Atlas, “This kid is a special case,” Hanley did what he wanted, when he wanted. Like Atlas, the Marlins had quality people tossed overboard in the choice between Hanley and anyone else.

When Loria had had enough and sent Andre Dawson and Tony Perez to discipline him, Hanley knew in the back of his mind that even if Dawson did as he threatened he would do and knock him out if he said the wrong thing, nothing was going to be done because he had the owner in his corner.

It was eerily predictable that Hanley was not going to be happy with the shift to third base in favor of Jose Reyes. Simple on paper, it wasn’t taken into account the macho perception stemming from where Hanley and Reyes grew up; that it would be seen as an usurping of Hanley’s territory for Reyes to be installed and Hanley moved to accommodate him; that Reyes got the money that Hanley didn’t; that the financial and practical idea of Reyes being “better” than Hanley would eat at his ego.

The Marlins bought a load of expensive baubles to decorate their new home without an interior designer’s input. The gaudy and cold emptiness is evident in the lack of cohesion among the roster.

How does this affect the Marlins?

Yes, they have quality baseball people in their front office in Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings, but there was very little in-depth baseball analysis put into practice when the Marlins Scotch-taped this team together. It was buy this, buy that and hope the team wins and the fans show up. The team hasn’t won and the fans haven’t shown up.

It’s not easy to run a club when there’s a mandate to keep costs down one year; to buy players the next; to do things that aren’t predicated on winning, but on the owner’s whims and needs to validate a new park built on the public’s dime. Beinfest has done the best he can under the circumstances. Don’t be stunned when it starts leaking out that there were significant members of the Marlins’ baseball operations team that wanted to trade Hanley two years ago and were prevented from pulling the trigger on better packages than what they eventually got.

The admiration for taking decisive action when the “plan” isn’t working is tempered by fan apathy. The majority of those in Miami aren’t going to notice whether Hanley’s there or not in a manner similar to them not paying attention to what the Marlins are doing at all. It’s easier to clean house when you don’t have any guests and the Marlins’ 12th place position in attendance is bound to get worse because the fans that were going to see baseball—and not get a haircut, visit an aquarium or ostentatious Miami nightspot—aren’t going to the park to watch a team that’s soon to be ten games under .500 and is, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from contention.

Like the Rays and A’s, the Marlins operate in an ambivalent vacuum where their ability to trade anyone and everyone is linked to the disinterest they generate. Nobody cares therefore nobody notices therefore it doesn’t negatively affect the business.

It’s been reported that the Marlins aren’t tearing the whole thing down so I wouldn’t expect Reyes, Mark Buehrle or Giancarlo Stanton to be traded. They’ve gotten themselves two very talented young starting pitchers in Eovaldi and Jacob Turner. But Carlos Lee, Logan Morrison, John Buck, Carlos Zambrano, Ricky Nolasco and Heath Bell (if anyone will take him) should have their bags packed.

They’ve tossed in the towel on this season because it didn’t work and the “Hanley’s fine with the move to third; fine with the money others are getting; fine with the direction of the franchise,” turned out to be cover stories for the obvious truth: it wasn’t going to work. And it didn’t.

How does this affect the Dodgers?

The Dodgers traded for Manny and the Manny package. They got the good Manny and almost went to the World Series. In a mediocre, parity-laden National League, that could happen again this season. They re-signed Manny for a lot of money and watched as he got hurt and was suspended for PEDs.

Manny was being Manny.

They just traded for Hanley and the Hanley package. They’ll get the good Hanley from now to the end of the season and presumably for 2013 because he’ll be looking for a long-term contract. His current deal expires after 2014. By mid-2013, it he’s playing well, he’ll let it be known how much he “loves” Los Angeles and wants to stay there for “the rest of his career.” That’s player speak for “Give me an extension. Now.”

With their new ownership and that Hanley’s going to revert to the superstar he was three years ago, they’ll pay him and keep him. Whether he’s going to repeat the Manny-style downfall and the behaviors that got him dumped from the Marlins and cast out by his surrogate father—Loria—remain to be seen, but judging from his history it’s not hard to imagine Hanley wearing out his welcome with the Dodgers and being back on the trading block not because of his salary or that it would improve the team, but because the Dodgers will realize what the Marlins did and say, “We hafta get him outta here,” due to his overt selfishness and team-destroying antics.

It’s not difficult to foresee—like the failures of the 2012 Marlins.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Kevin Youkilis

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Name: Kevin Youkilis
Tale of the tape: 1B/3B; 33-years-old; bats right; throws right; 6’1”; 220 lbs.
Contract status: $12 million in 2012; $13 million club option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.

Would the Red Sox trade him?

Barring injury to Will Middlebrooks, Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz, they’re going to trade Youkilis somewhere.

What would they want for him?

Whatever they can get.

Perhaps they can move him for a player who’s not performing well with his current club but could be of use to the Red Sox like a Grant Balfour or Ryan Roberts.

Even if they pay the rest of his 2012 salary, they’re not going to get much of a prospect for him.

Which teams would pursue him?

The Orioles have been mentioned in certain circles, but I doubt the Red Sox are going to trade him in the division.

Casey Kotchman has been a disaster with the Indians and they could slot Youkilis in at first base. The AL Central is winnable for them and Youkilis might be a change-of-scenery player who goes on a tear (if he’s healthy) once he’s out of Boston.

The White Sox have been playing Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson at third base and neither one has hit or played particularly good defense.

It would be an admission that they were wr-wr-wr-wrong (think Fonzie from Happy Days), but the Tigers could get Youkilis and put Miguel Cabrera where he belongs—in the DH spot.

Gaby Sanchez has been atrocious for the Marlins but putting Youkilis in that hair-trigger clubhouse is a bad idea.

The Phillies might make one last desperation move on Youkilis to try and save the season before taking offers on Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.

The Pirates are an intriguing option because they’re hovering around contention and could use a veteran with name recognition and send a signal that they’re serious about winning without giving up the farm.

The Cardinals could use insurance for their questionable status at first base as they wait (hope) for Lance Berkman to come back; David Freese has had frequent injuries in his career and Youkilis is insurance for that.

It would be an odd acquisition for the Cubs, but Theo Epstein knows Youkilis and they’re not giving up on 2013 in spite of the rebuild they’re planning. They can try and steal a Wild Card next season while simultaneously stocking the farm system by trading other veterans on their roster.

Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks could use a corner infield bat.

The Athletics would be a weird landing spot but given the bizarre moves made by Billy Beane—clearing out the house of his starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez—maybe he’d like to get his hands on the player he coveted back when Moneyball was believed to be reality. The Greek God of Walks was almost an A when Beane was taking the Red Sox job and Paul DePodesta was going to be the new A’s GM. Youkilis was the compensation for Beane being let out of his A’s contract. But Beane backed out on the Red Sox and Youkilis became a star in Boston.

The A’s need a first baseman and with their young pitching and needs at first and third base, they could trade for Youkilis and renegotiate his 2013 option to sign him for a couple of years. He might be rejuvenated as a fiery leader and dirt-caked, win at all costs type to show the young team how it’s done.

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The A’s Had Nothing To Lose With Manny

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Billy Beane’s decision to sign Manny Ramirez wasn’t the work of a “genius” nor was it a desperate move for a desperate team with a desperate front office.

Was it an attempt to garner headlines for a stripped down club desperately hoping for permission to build a new park in San Jose and without the money nor the cutting edge advanced stats to compete with the clubs that were now paying for that which the A’s once got for free?

Or was it a worthwhile “why not?” risk to provide a reason to watch the A’s other than to see what their newest signing Yoenis Cespedes was going to do and how many games they were going to lose?

The truth about the Athletics’ signing of Manny is in the middle somewhere between promotional purposes and baseball maneuverings.

It’s the fog of baseball. There’s no method to determine the “truth” when there’s no 2 + 2 = 4 truth to begin with.

It was either going to work or it wasn’t. In that sense, it was just like the drafts and the trades and the signings and the so-called “genius” of Beane that wasn’t genius at all, but was the good fortune to stumble onto a method that allowed him to take brief advantage of tools that few others were using at the time.

It ended quickly. Now the A’s are back where they started from and Albert Einstein couldn’t fix them unless he rose from the dead with a 94-mph cutter and a knee-buckling curve while simultaneously building a rocketship to send Michael Lewis into space on an undefined “mission”.

There are plenty of whys in the A’s decision to sign Manny and the answers are all pretty much accurate.

The signing of Manny was done to accumulate attention for the uninteresting A’s. When he joined the club in spring training, he was on his best behavior, doing his Manny thing of not knowing people’s names, acting like the good teammate and behaving appropriately. That he was still set to serve a 50-game suspension for failing a PED test was irrelevant. When Manny was ready—if he was ready—to join the big league club, he’d be recalled and the team would figure it all out later.

Then Manny started playing for the Triple A Sacramento River Cats and batted a respectable .302 with a .349 OBP. That’s fine. But of his 19 hits, 16 were singles and none were homers. He’s 40 and if he couldn’t hit the fringe big leaguers and youngsters that permeate Triple A clubs today; if he couldn’t hit the ball out of the River Cats’ reasonably dimensioned home park, what chance would he have had playing his home games in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum against legitimate big league pitchers with fastballs, control, command and breaking stuff?

The A’s didn’t need him. They’re better than anyone could’ve thought they’d be. Manager Bob Melvin could’ve been sabotaged by Manny’s presence. The DH slot is glutted with Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith. They have plenty of outfielders that deserve to play instead of Manny. The short burst in attendance they would’ve gotten and the merchandise sales of Manny bobbleheads, jerseys and T-shirts would not have mitigated the trouble he might’ve caused once he reverted to the Manny who was reviled in Boston and Los Angeles for on-field and off-field act.

The charm of Manny disappeared with the new revelations that make his antics less a childlike, innocent inability and disinterest to assimilate to the world away from the playing field into more of an overtly stupid and self-involved “I can do whatever I want because what are you gonna do about it?” tale of arrogance and misplaced (though repeatedly validated) belief that the rules don’t apply to him.

He asked for his release and the A’s gave it to him.

The A’s had nothing to lose.

It was worth a shot and didn’t work.

And now he’s gone.

The A’s are better off.

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