Granderson Not An Ideal Signing, But A Good One For The Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Stats

In a utopia, the Mets would have the goods to pry Troy Tulowitzki away from the Rockies without gutting their farm system. Or they would have the money available to sign one of the big free agent outfield names like Shin-Soo Choo. Tulowitzki isn’t available and the Mets can’t afford to give up the prospects if he was. They don’t have the money nor the willingness to meet Scott Boras’s asking price for Choo. The same held true for the recently signed Jacoby Ellsbury and a reunion with Carlos Beltran wasn’t a fit.

Instead of complaining about the players they couldn’t sign or acquire via trade, the Mets did the next best thing given the market and their circumstances and signed Curtis Granderson away from the Yankees. Granderson received a four-year, $60 million contract. There was debate within the organization as to whether they could get him for three years – general manager Sandy Alderson’s preference – but the team stepped up and guaranteed the fourth year. This saved them from the embarrassment of Granderson walking away and leaving the Mets even more desperate and needing to do something worse to placate an enraged and disgusted fan base. Even if it wasn’t necessary, it was needed.

The toxic situation surrounding the Mets and perception that there was a lack of commitment to winning led to players either using them as a lever to get better money elsewhere or not considering them at all. Granderson wasn’t a player who was left without options. Had he held out and waited until the other dominoes fell, he might have been able to surpass the contract he got from the Mets with another club. The Mets couldn’t risk that. Truthfully, nor could Granderson. It’s a marriage of convenience to be sure, but considering how free agents (and marriages) tend to be disastrous even if they seem so perfect at the time, it could be a boon to both sides.

Granderson is not without his flaws. He strikes out a ton and it’s unlikely that he’ll hit 40 home runs playing half his games in Citi Field as he did aiming for the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. But he is a legitimate threat in the middle of the lineup who will hit a mistake out of the ballpark and provide protection for David Wright in the lineup. He’s a good defensive outfielder, has extra-base power, will walk around 70 times, and is a tremendous person – exactly the type the Mets would like to pair with Wright to represent them publicly.

He’s an actual, established big leaguer with credentials and not someone like Marlon Byrd who they picked up off the scrapheap after a PED suspension or Chris Young who was a former All-Star only available to them because he was injured and terrible in the past two seasons and Alderson promised him regular playing time.

Often it takes an overpay to send a message to the rest of baseball that a club is serious. As criticized as former GM Omar Minaya was for paying Pedro Martinez $50 million for one-and-one-half productive seasons, the signing of Martinez was a signal that it wasn’t the same old Mets with legacy contracts doled out to the likes of Al Leiter and John Franco because of what they once were and that the ownership liked them. Shortly after securing Martinez, the Mets signed Beltran. The next year, they acquired Carlos Delgado and signed Billy Wagner. They paid the highest amounts for the players they signed, but given the way the Mets were perceived back then – and now – players might have shunned them for better circumstances no matter how much money they offered.

In addition to their minor league system stacked with pitching, the Granderson signing is a foundational move for credibility and a signal to other players that it’s okay to join him and Wright on the Mets helping them back to respectability. He’s not great, but he’s an affordable cog. He fills what the Mets currently need.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Advertisements

NLDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Games, Players, Playoffs

St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)

Keys for the Cardinals: Get runners on base; continue trend of hot hitting with runners in scoring position; try not to leave the game in the hands of the bullpen; get the goods from their proven post-season performers.

The Cardinals led the National League in runs scored using a similar formula as the Yankees of the 1990s used by having a very high teamwide on-base percentage and no big home run hitters. Instead of having that one basher in the middle of the lineup hitting 35-45 homers as they did with Albert Pujols, they spread the wealth in the home run department with six hitters in double figures. Not one, however, had more than 24. In addition, the Cardinals had a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position.

The Cardinals bullpen is deep and diverse. Edward Mujica pitched well for much of the season as the team’s accidental closer after Jason Motte was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. Mujica saved 37 games and walked only five batters in 64.2 innings. Home runs have always been his bugaboo and he surrendered nine. With Mujica’s struggles, the Cardinals have to decide whether to stick to the regular season script and leave him in the role, go with Trevor Rosenthal or a closer-by-committee.

The Cardinals have a roster full of players who’ve put up big numbers in the post-season with Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina. Players who’ve performed in the post-season have a tendency to do it again.

Keys for the Pirates: Don’t wait too long with their starting pitchers; don’t change their game; keep the Cardinals off the bases; get into the Cardinals’ bullpen.

The Cardinals were vulnerable to lefty pitchers but with Francisco Liriano having started the Wild Card Game against the Reds, he won’t pitch until game three in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are starting A.J. Burnett in game one and Gerrit Cole in game two. Even though he struggled in September, I might’ve rolled the dice and started Jeff Locke in game one if I were manager Clint Hurdle. The Pirates have a deep bullpen and shouldn’t wait too long with their starting pitchers before making a change. Locke as a middle reliever might end up being more effective than having him start.

As stated earlier, the Cardinals get a lot of runners on base. The Pirates have a solid defense and have to shun the walk – this is especially true for Burnett with his scattershot control.

If the Pirates don’t get the Cardinals starting pitchers’ pitch counts up and force manager Mike Matheny to go to the bullpen, they might not get a shot at Mujica.

The Pirates won their games this season with good starting pitching, speed, power from Pedro Alvarez, a great back of the bullpen and defense. They have to maintain all facets of their game.

What will happen:

The Cardinals are built more for the long season than for a short series. While they have those aforementioned big time post-season players, the Pirates have the pitching and bullpen depth to neutralize them. If the Cardinals don’t get runners on the bases, they’re not going to score because they don’t hit enough home runs and the Pirates don’t surrender many home runs. Mujica is not trustworthy as a post-season closer and if it comes down to a one-run lead in the ninth inning, everyone in St. Louis will be holding their collective breaths waiting for the inevitable longball.

The Pirates are riding a wave with their veteran acquisitions Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd leading the way joining Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker in the lineup. A lack of post-season experience could be a problem. The Cardinals have loads of it and the Pirates have nearly none. It could also go the other way. With the first playoff appearance and playoff win in two decades under their belts, the Pirates won’t feel the pressure. That’s one instance when the Wild Card Game will benefit a young and inexperienced team.

I don’t like the way Matheny handles the bullpen as if he’s panicky and desperate not to do the wrong thing rather than do the right thing.

The Pirates’ method of winning has a better chance to carry over into the post-season. They rely on fundamentals, speed and pop; the Cardinals relied on getting on base and clutch hitting. The Pirates are younger, stronger, faster and hungrier than the Cardinals. They’re better too.

PREDICTION: PIRATES IN THREE




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Reading Between Sandy Alderson’s Lines

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors


Sandy Alderson was a guest with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York yesterday and said a lot without going into great detail as to what his true intentions are. This is nothing new. Alderson is cautious and makes it a point to give himself room by not saying anything that could later come back to haunt him. But if you read between the lines of what he said, you can come to a conclusion as to where he’s heading for the Mets in 2014 and beyond.

Matt Harvey – surgery or not?

According to Alderson, by next month there should be a plan in place on what to do about Harvey’s partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. While Harvey’s determination to avoid surgery to help the Mets is admirable, it was clear from listening to Alderson that he and the Mets want Harvey to get the surgery done, have his elbow repaired and be 100 percent for late 2014/early 2015.

Alderson is essentially saying what the self-educated “experts” in the media and on social media should say: “I’m not a doctor and we’ll do what the doctors’ consensus is.” If I were Alderson, I would speak to Harvey’s dad, Ed Harvey, who is a notable high school coach and make certain he understands the ramifications of Matt not getting the surgery and express that to his son.

Ike Davis and Lucas Duda

Alderson sounds as if he’s unsure about Davis and likes Duda much better. I agree. The bottom line with the two players is that Duda’s a better hitter. He’s got more power; he’s got a better eye; he hits lefties; he’s got a shorter swing that will be more consistent in the long run; he takes the game more seriously; and he can play a similar defensive first base to Davis.

Alderson brought up Duda’s struggles but made sure to point out that in spite of them, he still had one of the highest OPS’s on the club. Davis improved in certain aspects when he returned from his Triple A demotion, but his power is still missing. He’s walking more, but unless Davis is hitting the ball out of the park, what good is he?

The strained right oblique that Davis suffered in Washington has all but ended his 2013 season. This is a positive and negative for the Mets. It’s a negative because they won’t be able to get a look at Davis over the final month to see if the improved selectivity yielded an increase in power over the final 30 games. It’s a positive because they can play Duda every single day at first base and get a gauge on whether they can trade Davis and trust Duda without it exploding in their faces.

Joel Sherman came up with a ridiculous series of scenarios for Davis including trading him for the likes of Chris Coghlan, Gordon Beckham or Jeremy Hellickson. Coghlan is a possible non-tender candidate after this season and Beckham and Hellickson have done nothing to warrant being traded for a player who hit 32 home runs in 2012.

It’s almost as if Alderson is pleading with Duda to give him a reason to hand him the job in 2014. Alderson clearly wants Duda to put a chokehold on first base so the Mets can trade Davis.

Ruben Tejada

The Mets had implied as far back as spring training 2012 that Tejada’s work ethic was questionable. It’s not that he doesn’t hustle or play hard when he’s on the field. He does. It’s that Alderson came right out and said that Tejada has to be dragged onto the field for extra infield, extra hitting and any kind of after-hours instruction. Whereas players like Juan Lagares can’t get enough work, Tejada doesn’t think he needs it. They’d never gone as far as to openly say it, but now it’s out there. Unless Tejada shows that he’s willing to go as far as he needs to to be the Mets’ shortstop, he’s not going to be the Mets’ shortstop. In fact, it’s unlikely that he’s going to be their shortstop next year whether he suddenly finds a determination similar to Derek Jeter’s. He doesn’t hit for enough power to suit Alderson and he can’t run.

The status of manager Terry Collins

Collins is going to be the manager of the Mets in 2014. While there has been a media/fan-stoked idea that if the Mets tank in September and come completely undone that will spell doom for Collins, it’s nonsense. That might have been the case had David Wright, Davis, Harvey and Bobby Parnell been healthy and if they hadn’t traded Marlon Byrd and John Buck. Now that they’re without all of these players and are on the cusp of shutting down Zack Wheeler, they’re playing so shorthanded that a September record of 10-19 would be expected. If they go 14-15 or thereabouts, Collins will get the credit for overachievement.

How can anyone in their right mind hold Collins responsible if the team has a poor September when they’re going to be trotting Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang out to the mound for a number of starts just to get the season over with?

The upcoming winter and spending

I’m not getting into speculation on the Wilpons’ loan payments due in 2014. So many have already done that and the vast majority of them have been completely wrong every step of the way since the arrest of Bernie Madoff and the financial meltdown. From the outside, I’m going to say that the banks are going to let the Wilpons renegotiate the debt. In truth, considering the amount of money they owe, what it will cost to sign a few players – even expensive players – is relatively negligible. It’s not in Alderson’s DNA to pay $150 million for a free agent because as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Crawford and so many others have proven, it’s just not worth it in the majority of cases. The Mets will be in on the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Beltran and Jhonny Peralta whose prices will be “what’s the difference?” outlays. Alderson said they have financial flexibility and they do. The Mets are going to spend this winter because they’re out of excuses and they can’t afford not to.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Sandy Alderson Is Smarter Than You

Ballparks, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

Has the screaming and yelling from July 31 at the Mets not trading Marlon Byrd died down yet?

Yesterday the Mets sent Byrd and John Buck to the Pirates for highly touted single A second base prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later. So is it okay that Alderson didn’t pull the trigger on Byrd a month ago just because it would’ve been better-received publicly by a wing of fans that won’t be happy no matter what he does?

What people fail to understand is that no matter how smart a baseball fan a person thinks he or she is; how many stats are quoted; how arrogant they are in thinking they know more than experienced baseball people, the fact is they’re not smarter, don’t know how to apply the stats and don’t know more. Alderson made it plain and simple when he explained why he didn’t trade Byrd at the deadline: the offers weren’t good enough to make it worthwhile and he was prepared to keep Byrd if he didn’t get an acceptable one now. This is what’s known as being a GM.

Maybe you’d like Omar Minaya back. Minaya’s tenure as Mets’ GM has become fodder for ridicule but, in reality, he did some very good things in his time. As always, Minaya’s main faults as GM are his problems with handling a crisis and that he’s too nice. Part of that niceness exhibited itself when he made the colossal blunder of trading Billy Wagner to the Red Sox for mediocre non-prospects Chris Carter and Eddie Lora.

Wagner didn’t want the Mets to offer him arbitration when he hit free agency after that season but unlike Carlos Beltran, he didn’t have it in his contract that the team couldn’t offer him arbitration. Rather than tell Wagner that business is business, hold onto him for the remainder of the season and offer arbitration or wait for a better offer than what the Red Sox presented, Minaya did the nice thing rather than the smart thing. He sent Wagner to a club that was going to the playoffs, got two players who did very little for the Mets and ruined what could have been two draft picks as compensation. The picks the Red Sox got were the 20th and the 39th. The players they took, Kolbrin Vitek and Anthony Ranaudo, are still in the minors. Available at those draft spots were: Noah Syndergaard, Taijuan Walker, Mike Olt and Nick Castellanos. Would any of these players been better than Carter, Lora and Minaya retaining his justified perception as a nice man?

Alderson isn’t interested in what the public thinks and he has no concern about being nice. That’s what it takes to be an effective GM.

There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy disagreement and complaining about what one’s team does. There are significant factions, however, who disagree for its own sake. No matter what, there will be a few people who rant and rave about it and stir other weak-minded/like-minded people to join in. It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if there weren’t owners who listened to everything the fans and media say and force their GMs to make moves they don’t want to make. Most GMs will speak in corporate circles to make these segments believe that their opinions have value and that consideration was given to what they want. When he traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, there were calls for the head of Orioles GM Dan Duquette amid wondering why he didn’t get “more.” Similar to Alderson, the wonkish Duquette said straight out that it was the best deal he was offered.

In the end, it turns into disagreement just because or with a clear agenda in mind. There’s no avoiding it. The Mets have a GM who’s smarter than that. He was hired to be the adult in the room and that’s what he is.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

How Much Worse Is Ankiel For The Mets?

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats

While it’s obvious fodder for ridicule for the Mets to be accepting refuse from the Astros when signing Rick Ankiel and immediately putting him in the lineup in center field, it’s not a simple matter of neatly encompassing the sad state of affairs of the club to attack the move. The Mets outfield has been about as bad as was predicted before the season with only Lucas Duda’s power and on base skills salvaging anything.

The center fielders the Mets have trotted out this season—Collin Cowgill, Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Juan Lagares, and Marlon Byrd—have hit for a combined split of .182/.217/.280 with 3 homers, 4 doubles and 2 stolen bases while playing the position. Ankiel, before he was released by the Astros, batted .194/.231/.484 with 5 homers. Historically Ankiel has been a good defensive center fielder and has the pitcher’s arm to prevent runners from trying to take the extra base.

No, he’s not good. But maybe with the solid rates that David Wright and Duda get on base, he’ll hit a homer every now and then to drive them in rather than leave them stranded on the bases.

Bottom line: he’s no worse than what they had before, so why not?

//

National League Breakout/Rebound Candidates (Or Cheap Gets For Your Fantasy Team)

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Last week, I looked at breakout/rebound candidates for the American League, some of whom will be very, very cheap pickups for your fantasy clubs. Now I’ll look at the National League.

Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

Ramos is coming back from a torn ACL in his knee and because the Nationals traded for Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics last season, there’s no need to rush Ramos back before he’s 100%. But he will eventually take over as the starting catcher and it’s not just because he’s a future All-Star and potential Gold Glove winner.

Suzuki is a competent everyday catcher who’s shown 15 homer power in the past. Even if he’s not hitting, the Nationals lineup is strong enough to carry one mediocre bat and Suzuki’s good with the pitchers.

There’s a financial component though. Suzuki has a club option in his contract for 2014 at $8.5 million. The option becomes guaranteed if Suzuki starts 113 games in 2013. Barring another injury to Ramos, that is not going to happen. Ramos will be catching 5 of every 7 games by the summer.

Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

It’s easy to forget about Freeman due to the number of power-hitting first basemen around baseball, but he’s gotten steadily better every year as a professional and with the infusion of Justin Upton and B.J. Upton into the lineup, plus Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla, teams won’t be worried about Freeman’s power leading to him getting more pitches to hit.

Lucas Duda, LF—New York Mets

Given the Mets on-paper outfield (Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd, Marv Throneberry, George Theodore, Jan Brady, Cindy Brady, Gilligan, Barnaby Jones, Cannon), there’s plenty of fodder for ridicule. Duda is the butt of jokes because of his last name; that he’s a bad outfielder; because he seems so quiet and reticent. The criticism is missing an important factor: he can hit, hit for power and walk. If the Mets tell him he’s their starting left fielder, period, they’ll be rewarded with 25-30 homers and a .360+ on base percentage. So will fantasy owners.

Bobby Parnell, RHP—New York Mets

With Frank Francisco sidelined with elbow woes, Parnell has been named the Mets’ closer…for now. They have Brandon Lyon on the team and are still said to be weighing Jose Valverde. None of that matters. Parnell was going to get the shot at some point this season and with a little luck in Washington last season when defensive miscues cost him an impressive and legitimate old-school, fireman-style save, he would’ve taken the role permanently back then.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Miami Marlins

The Tigers were concerned about Turner’s velocity at the end of spring training 2012 and he wound up being traded to the Marlins in the deal for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. He acquitted himself well in seven starts for the Marlins and will be in the 2013 rotation from start to finish. He has all the pitches, a great curve, command and presence.

Justin Ruggiano, CF—Miami Marlins

It’s natural to wonder if a player who has his breakout year at age 30 is a product of unlocked talent and opportunity or a brief, freak thing that will end as rapidly as it came about.

Ruggiano has been a very good minor league player who never got a shot to play in the big leagues. He took advantage of it in 2012 and will open the season as the Marlins starting center fielder.

Billy Hamilton, CF—Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have major expectations in 2013 and much of their fortunes hinge on their pitching staff; they’re functioning with Shin-Soo Choo playing an unfamiliar position in center field; at mid-season (or earlier) it may become clear that Choo can’t play the position well enough for the pitchers nor to bluff their way through to the playoffs. Hamilton is in Triple A learning center field after a shift from the infield and can make up for any educational curve with sheer, blinding speed that has yielded 320 stolen bases in 379 minor league games. He also provides something they lack: a legitimate leadoff hitter and an exciting spark that other teams have to plan for.

Vince Coleman spurred the 1985 Cardinals to the pennant by distracting the opposing pitchers into derangement and opening up the offense for Willie McGee to win the batting title and Tommy Herr and Jack Clark to rack up the RBI. The same thing could happen with Hamilton, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Choo.

Jason Grilli, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

Grilli is a first time closer at age 36, but he’s a late-bloomer with a fastball in the mid-90s and a ripping strikeout slider. The Pirates starting pitching and offense are good enough to provide Grilli with enough save chances to make him worthwhile as a pickup.

Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Fujikawa was a strikeout machine as a closer in Japan and history has proven that Japanese closers tend to transition to North America much better than starters without the fanfare. Takashi Saito and Kazuhiro Sasaki are examples.

The Cubs are in full-blown rebuild and will trade incumbent closer Carlos Marmol during the season. They’ll let him close at the outset to boost his value, then dump him, handing the job to Fujukawa.

Dale Thayer, RHP—San Diego Padres

Closer Huston Street is injury prone and the Padres, for whatever reason, don’t think much of Luke Gregerson (they tried to trade him to the Mets for Daniel Murphy and when Street was out last season, they let Thayer take over as closer.)

Thayer has a strikeout slider that leads stat-savvy teams like the Rays, Mets, and Padres continually picking him up. If Street gets hurt, Thayer will get closing chances.

Yasmani Grandal, C—San Diego Padres

His PED suspension has tarnished his luster, but he’s still a top catching prospect and once he’s reinstated, there’s no reason for the Padres not to play him with Nick Hundley and John Baker ahead of Grandal. Neither of the veteran catchers will be starting for the Padres when they’re ready to contend; Grandal will. He hits and he gets on base.

//

Guilty By Association; Innocent By Facts

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

It’s a strange world we live in when the person who was rummaging through the garbage on his own time and by his own volition is on the side of “right” and the people who were technically doing “wrong” end up in jail and automatically vilified for the rest of their lives as a toxic name not to be associated with under any circumstances.

But that’s where we are.

The BALCO investigation began when an IRS investigator Jeff Novitzky received a tip that the lab was providing illegal drugs to its athletes and, under his own initiative, poked around the trash of BALCO and found evidence to begin building a case to stop what was essentially a victimless crime that few wanted solved.

Novitzky was the vigilante on an inexplicable crusade.

You can read the sequence of events here.

Because he was seen as a “dealer” who tried to circumvent the law and rules of the sports in which his clients competed, Victor Conte has become that vilified and toxic name.

Of course it’s not that simple.

Once the government got the ball rolling on that case it had to get a conviction to justify what one of their employees—Novitzky—was doing; it was in the media, people knew about it, purists were complaining about the shattered records and ludicrous muscular development and everyone jumped in to get their piece of the action.

But it was all after the fact. The complaints from people inside and outside of sports during the BALCO era were completely ignored for personal and institutional gain.

It’s not unlike the Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds trials that ended with no significant penalties assessed to the two aside from the destruction of their reputations, ruining of their career accomplishments and draining of their finances.

Marlon Byrd failed a test for performance enhancing drugs and was suspended for 50 games. Byrd worked with Conte. Therefore, the simplistic logic goes, it was Conte who gave Byrd the drug.

Byrd claims that the drug he took was unrelated to baseball; that it was a private matter for a medical condition and wasn’t used to enhance his performance. Byrd’s performance validates this claim. He was released by the Red Sox following a disastrous tenure. His production has taken a dive since last season and also resulted in the Cubs dumping him on the Red Sox.

Conte has been the one person whose answers to the questions of his complicity in the case have been consistent and believable. That he was doing something that’s considered against the law and rules of competition is based on a floating set of principles that aren’t inherent, but are created and stem from the judgment of others as to right and wrong. Conte was providing a service to his athletes by helping them improve their performance. Legalities notwithstanding, it wasn’t his problem that the scheduling of X drug made it a violation to use while Y drug was okay; that the heads of baseball and other sports looked the other way as a convenience to themselves.

It’s a capricious set of “rules” that were being “broken”.

Attacked because he tries to cut through the fog of athletics and the sanctimonious pretentions by the heads of the sports whose rules he supposedly violated, a misplaced connection between Conte and Byrd was presented as proof of guilt.

Conte’s main crime now appears to be telling the truth about PEDs and how prevalent they still are; that he accurately says if enforcement and eradication were really the goals, more would be done to improve the tests and procedures.

Factually, it doesn’t appear that Byrd got caught using something Conte had given him.

But that doesn’t matter.

It’s a splashy and attention-getting headline to say, “Marlon Byrd Busted With PEDS; Once Worked With Victor Conte”.

Facts are irrelevant when they would preclude the headline and the story detailing their conspiracy especially when there was no conspiracy at all.

//

American League Patience Or Panic?

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Let’s take a look at some teams that, prior to the season, had expectations but have struggled out of the gate. Should they be patient or should they panic?

Boston Red Sox

The Carl Crawford news is getting worse and worse and his contract has been labeled a “disaster” one year into a seven year deal.

Disaster is a bit much since he’s hurt, but the end result is that he’s enduring all sorts of maladies and didn’t play well in 2011.

They acquired Marlon Byrd to replace the injured Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s a morbid race to see which of the injured duo of Ellsbury and Crawford gets back first.

Daniel Bard is starting tonight after his successful return—albeit brief—to the bullpen. It appears as if the team is taking a wait-and-see approach as to what to do with Bard for 2012. I’d expect him to return to the bullpen with Aaron Cook taking his spot in the rotation. The question is when.

The Sunday night rainout and going on the road to play a bad team in the Twins gave the Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine a much-needed break from the rising viciousness at home.

There’s little they can do at the moment to improve the roster and they have to wait and hope.

Kansas City Royals

The innocent climb is never easy, especially for a team like the Royals that has been mismanaged and plain bad for a long time.

With their high-end young players expected to yield a marked improvement on the field, they won 3 of their first 5 games…then turned around and lost 12 in a row.

The Royals are very talented. That doesn’t always mean they’re going to adhere to a specific timeframe of improvement. They’ve started poorly and now lefty Danny Duffy is missing his Friday start with elbow tightness. Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur have gotten off to slow starts at the plate; they lost Joakim Soria for the season to Tommy John surgery; and catcher Salvador Perez is out until the summer.

There’s no need to panic and make a desperate and stupid trade. They have to play it out and learn from adversity.

Los Angeles Angels

Most teams with the Angels’ collection of stars would make it through and at least hang around .500 if one aspect of their club—offense, defense, bullpen, rotation—were struggling so terribly. But the Angels haven’t hit; their bullpen has been rotten; the starting pitching inconsistent; and the defense shabby.

Overall, they don’t look right.

It’s as if the holdovers from the years of Angels’ stability, cohesion and familiarity are treading cautiously with a newcomer the status of Albert Pujols.

Pujols is pressing and has yet to hit a home run.

They need to relax. This team is too good to play like this the entire season. They’ve got a hot streak coming. Soon.

//

Prepare For The Cubs To Clean House

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The Cubs’ recent decisions indicate that Theo Epstein isn’t going to sit on his hands and wait until June or July before cleaning out the house of anyone and everyone for whom he can get value and/or salary relief.

With the sudden trade of Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox, Epstein wasn’t doing his former club any favors. He got rid of Byrd for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later with the Cubs paying Byrd’s salary. To make room for Bowden on the 40-man roster, the Cubs have designated veteran swingman Rodrigo Lopez for assignment.

This is just the beginning.

In the off-season, the Cubs made a series of low-cost signings for veteran competence. Their biggest and most expensive imports were Epstein, new GM Jed Hoyer and his assistant Jason McLeod.

The Cubs paid the Marlins to take Carlos Zambrano to get him out of their sight. This and the Byrd trade echoed a similar strategy. Presumably they could’ve gotten more salary relief had they been willing to take marginal prospects in return for Zambrano and Byrd, but they chose to pay them off and get Bowden from the Red Sox and Chris Volstad from the Marlins. That Epstein was able to get anything for Byrd at all—with or without paying him—is a testimony to the Red Sox’ desperation to do something. Byrd had managed 3 singles in 47 plate appearances for the Cubs.

Epstein’s not stupid. He knew when he took the job that the Cubs were going to require an extensive makeover. The biggest advantage he has isn’t the history of success he had with the Red Sox and the status of being the GM when the Red Sox not only broke their curse in 2004, but won another title in 2007. The biggest advantage he has is the Cubs’ fans’ blind loyalty to their team. In the past, the attendance—good team, bad team, whatever team—has been a dual-edged sword. They didn’t have to be good to attract fans. In the past 10 years, the Cubs have never finished lower than fifth in National League attendance and it made no difference whether they won 97 games or 66 games. The fans will be patient and support the uniforms regardless of the players wearing them.

They took a wait-and-see approach this past winter and signed the likes of David DeJesus to a reasonable and cheap contract; they acquired a veteran third baseman Ian Stewart; and made the aforementioned deal to get rid of Zambrano.

They’ve gotten off to a 5-12 start and got rid of Byrd.

Expect Ryan Dempster to be on the market. They’ll dangle Matt Garza at mid-season safe in the knowledge that he’s not a free agent until after 2013 and they have the multiple options of signing him long-term, trading him in July or sometime within the next year-and-a-half. They might swallow Alfonso Soriano’s contract ($18 million annually through 2014) completely and release him if he doesn’t start doing the only thing he still can do—hit a few homers. Carlos Marmol needs a change of scenery and will be available very, very soon.

The Cubs’ new regime gave them a chance to show they were a possible fringe contender.

They’ve lost 12 of their first 17 games and have looked lackluster and boring while doing it.

There’s no reason to continue the charade with players who won’t be Cubs when and if they’re ready to contend for a championship. Epstein’s got players to trade and he’s going to trade them sooner rather than later.

//

2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series
Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//