Bo Porter: Future Managerial Pope?

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Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said that not only might his rookie manager Bo Porter be running the club on the field for an extended period, but he might be the manager for “decades.”

Considering the shelf-life of most managers, it’s a silly and strange thing to say and as Luhnow moves along in the public eye as a GM, he’ll realize that these hyperbolic pronouncements designed to show support can: A) wind up biting him in the future; and B) create headlines when none are necessary.

Porter’s managerial survival is contingent on his mandate and the managerial mandate for every manager shifts depending on the circumstances. Given their roster, the Astros can’t possibly put forth the pretense of trying to win in 2013 or even 2014 and probably 2015. With that in mind, Porter is there to develop; to teach fundamentals on and off the field (i.e. how to behave like a Major League player); and to learn on the job himself.

While Porter sounds impressive in this interview from Fangraphs, it also takes the tone of someone knowing what will be required to get a managerial job and tailoring his outlook to sound palatable to the people—like Luhnow—who are doing the hiring. He has very little managerial experience (72 games seven years ago in the low minor leagues for the Marlins) and while the details of his contract with the Astros have not been disclosed other than the negligible phrase “multi-year contract,” judging by what other managers who were in their first jobs have received and that the Astros are operating on a cheap-as-humanly-possible dynamic, it would be a shock if his salary is much higher than $500,000.

It’s a positive that as a minor league player Porter practiced what he’s preaching with a high on-base percentage, power and speed. Unfortunately for him, he was born about 5-7 years too early to take advantage of the new reliance placed on what it was he did well and only had brief trials in the big leagues from 1999-2001 with 142 nondescript plate appearances. He was at the tail end of his career and 30-years-old, playing out the string when the wave of teams looking for players exactly like Porter—cheap, available and who got on base—when those stats came to prominence.

Luhnow suggesting Porter as a possible Astros manager until 2030 (2040? 2050? Perhaps he can visit Biogenesis and last in to the next century!) is going to arouse eyebrow raises and eyerolls, questions and ridicule. Much of the criticism will come opportunistically from those who don’t like or don’t understand what Luhnow is trying to do. It’s the nature of the job. In fairness to Luhnow, his own experience as a private businessman and in his nascent years as a baseball executive clearly contributed to his desire to have a manager he knew would work cheaply for the opportunity; would be agreeable to the stat-based theories and middle-manager implementation; and would know his place without rattling his cage too much.

When Luhnow joined the Cardinals, he was hired by the owner of the team Bill DeWitt on the heels of the Moneyball frenzy and walked into a situation where there were old-school baseball men Walt Jocketty as the Cardinals GM and Tony LaRussa as the manager who felt simultaneously threatened and offended by the entrance of “some guy the owner knew” who had reams of stats, theories and numbers with zero baseball experience as a player, scout or anything else. Compounding the dysfunction was the stripping of some of Jocketty’s powers to accommodate this new separate department that was ostensibly working for the owner and operating independently from what the baseball people who’d been running the place for nearly a decade were doing. Jocketty’s eventual departure only made matters worse. LaRussa, contentious, powerful and unafraid to use his status as an unfireable institution did everything he could to take charge of the direction of the organization and won the battle of attrition.

Given that experience, when he was hired as a GM, Luhnow was not going to put himself into a subordinate position to his manager and other underlings who might interfere with his blueprint. That’s why it was a farce when the Astros interviewed Larry Bowa. Bowa, with his resume and old-school crustiness was going to be as impossible to deal with as LaRussa without the Hall of Fame bona fides.

None of the individuals in these various circumstances are wrong. I’m not interested in factions, I’m interested in facts. LaRussa and Jocketty were right; Luhnow was right; Bowa is right; and Porter is right. These determinations are not mutually exclusive.

It’s highly unlikely that Porter will be difficult if one of the stat guys in the front office tells him to bench Brett Wallace in favor of Matt Dominguez or vice versa. That’s what Luhnow and his ilk want: someone who can manage the team on the field with player street cred while also doing what he’s told by the front office. Whether Porter’s tenure is counted in decades or days depends on how he performs in the job and his job description in this new era exemplified by Luhnow requires him doing what he’s told. He’s the right man in the moment. That’s the key: finding someone who is the proper fit for what the organization as a whole is trying to build. By that criteria, Porter is what the Astros wanted and needed. For now. That may not be so in 2020. Then whoever is in charge will find someone else. That’s baseball as a game and as a business. Luhnow, Porter and the Astros will learn that soon enough.

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1st Round Draft Picks Traded for Middle Relievers is a Bad Move

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One of the more curious trades made on deadline day was the Cardinals sending former 1st round pick Zack Cox to the Marlins for Edward Mujica, a mediocre reliever who has a penchant for giving up lots of home runs. There are many palatable explanations to feed to the hungry public as to why such a deal would be made. With the Cardinals, Cox’s path was blocked at first base by Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter and at third base by David Freese; at 23, Cox is struggling at Triple-A after tearing apart the lower minors; the Cardinals needed help in the bullpen and wanted—for whatever reason—Mujica.

All are legitimate enough. But I’d think a former 1st round pick would bring back more than a homer-prone, journeyman relief pitcher who, bottom line, isn’t that good. There could be issues we don’t know about. Scott Kazmir was traded by the Mets in an atrocious maneuver, in part, because of his attitude. Trading Kazmir wasn’t the mistake the Mets made—pitching coach Rick Peterson wound up being right about Kazmir’s small frame and breakdown potential—but that they traded him for Victor Zambrano.

In today’s game, 1st round draft picks are losing their value and it’s not because they’re not talented, but because teams are more willing to trade them since one of the main reasons 1st round picks get chance after chance is due to the attachment to their names, “1st round pick” and that the clubs no longer have as much money invested in these players. Cox received a $3.2 million, 4-year contract when he was drafted as the 25th overall pick in 2010, including a $2 million bonus. That was relatively in line with the rest of the draft, apart from the Dodgers giving over $5 million to Zach Lee three picks later.

Now things are drastically different in the MLB Draft. The implementation of what amounts to a salary cap with punishments for exceeding the spending limits has rendered nonexistent the leverage of drafted players. That is clearly going to affect how clubs value those high picks and they’ll be more willing to trade them for less than what would be perceptively acceptable to the outsider. With the attention paid to the draft by the newly minted “draftniks” who think they know more than in-the-trenches scouts and experienced GMs, there’s a greater scrutiny placed on what’s done with those picks. When a team like the Nationals or Diamondbacks trades a chunk of their farm system to get a veteran Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill, it’s debated more intensely than when the Red Sox traded Jeff Bagwell (a 4th round pick) for Larry Andersen in late August of 1990. As terribly as that trade is viewed now, the Red Sox weren’t wrong. Bagwell was a very good hitter and back then, the value of on base percentage wasn’t what it is now. He didn’t have any power in the minors and they had Wade Boggs blocking him with Scott Cooper ahead of Bagwell in the minor league pecking order. Anderson posted a 1.23 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Red Sox and did exactly what they wanted him to do in helping them win their division. Who could’ve looked at Bagwell and expected him to become an MVP, Gold Glove winner, and future Hall of Famer? No one.

The Cox for Mujica isn’t similar to that trade because Andersen was a proven veteran reliever and Cox has shown minor league power that Bagwell never did. Is Cox what he was projected to be when the Cardinals drafted him and paid him so well? Probably not. But he’s 23 and his numbers in the lower minors were bolstered by a high batting average so his on base percentage looked better than it does now even though he’s walking about the same amount of the time. The Marlins got a better third base prospect than the one they gave up, Matt Dominguez, to get Carlos Lee (who they’re going to unload soon), and all they gave up was Mujica, who was a Marlins’ non-tender candidate after this season.

It was a productive deal for the Marlins and a head-scratcher for the Cardinals. With the diminished amount of money spent on high draft picks, we’ll see more of this in the future. While it wasn’t a good thing for players to get repeated passes for poor on-field play and bad off-field behaviors because of draft status and clubs’ fears of being embarrassed by a failed pick, nor is it a good thing that top draft picks are traded for middle relievers. It will happen again and teams are going to regret it because it’s not a smart baseball decision to make.

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The Carlos Lee Trade—Full Analysis

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Marlins acquire 1B/OF Carlos Lee from the Astros for minor league 3B Matt Dominguez and LHP Rob Rasmussen.

For Carlos Lee.

For those wondering why Lee agreed to go to the Marlins and not the Dodgers, the Marlins weren’t on Lee’s no-trade list. He had no choice.

Even if the Marlins were on his no-trade list, he probably would’ve okayed the deal. If it’s true that Lee was concerned about the change in state income tax from Texas to Los Angeles, the state laws are the same in Florida as in Texas so he won’t be losing any money.

Lee has been too accommodating and nice during this whole process. He had every right to reject the deal to the Dodgers and didn’t have to give a reason. Sometimes players should channel their inner Barry Bonds and, rather than being politically correct, say what they’re really feeling to the tune of, “Screw off. It’s a clause in my contract and I exercised it. I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

The change to a better situation (at least in the standings) with the Marlins will benefit him. Lee and Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen had problems in the past from the one season Guillen managed him with the White Sox. White Sox catcher Jamie Burke had been bowled over in a home plate collision with Twins’ outfielder Torii Hunter; when Lee had the chance to retaliate with a takeout slide on an attempted double play, he didn’t do it.

As evidenced by that incident and his reluctance to respond forcefully when his desire to win was questioned as he vetoed the trade to the Dodgers, he can be laid back and passive.

I doubt it should be an issue between Lee and Guillen. It was 8 years ago; Guillen needs Lee to perform well for his team to win and get his club back into contention; Lee wants to do well to get another contract from someone after the season. I’m sure they’ve run into one another from time-to-time in the intervening years; there’s no need to harbor a grudge over it especially when they have mutual interests in putting it behind them.

For the Marlins.

They’re reportedly not paying Lee—the Astros are; first base has been a wasteland (Gaby Sanchez—.202/.250/.306 with 3 homers—was demoted to Triple A after the game); they’re near the bottom of the National League in runs scored; and they gave up two minor leaguers who weren’t in their long-term plans.

Lee’s a professional hitter, doesn’t strike out and the change could wake up his bat. He’s also an underrated defender at first base and a good baserunner despite his somewhat ample proportions.

For the Astros.

The Astros and Jeff Luhnow did a good job getting something for Lee. Dominguez was a 1st round draft pick for the Marlins in 2007, won’t be 23 until next month and has stalled at Triple A. He has 15 homer pop and as recently as two years ago had 31 extra base hits in 95 minor league games. Defense is his forte. Like the Astros’ decision to claim an even larger bust, Fernando Martinez of the Mets, there’s nothing to lose with Dominguez. The Astros minor league system is mostly barren and Luhnow is bringing in pieces to stock the organization; in this case it was for Lee whom they were desperate to get rid of. The talk that Dominguez is a defensive replacement is premature. If he can save 10 or so runs a year and hits 12 homers and drives in 75 runs, is that not productive?

Players like Dominguez have use. If he is a defensive replacement, so what? That’s a function.

Below is college video of Rasmussen, the minor league lefty the Astros received.

He’s listed at 5’9”; his size and motion are reminiscent of John Franco. Worst case scenario, he’s a lefty and lefties with a pulse are in demand.

This is a good deal for everyone.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates for 2012—Hanley Ramirez

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When considering how to approach this posting, something occurred to me: what are the Marlins going to do if they shift Hanley Ramirez to third base, he’s playing there for awhile—be it a week, a month or half a season—and new shortstop Jose Reyes gets hurt with, oh I dunno, a hamstring pull?

What will Ramirez say if he’s asked to move back to shortstop to replace the injured Reyes and then is asked to move back to third when Reyes returns?

If you pay attention to several of the Mets beat writers, Reyes’s hamstring issues aren’t prevalent; he had them early in his career, was completely healthy from 2005-2008, then tore his hamstring in 2010, in part, because of the Mets shoddy medical diagnosis and decision to play him while he was compromised; in 2010, he had a thyroid problem; in 2011, there were two stints on the disabled list because of his hamstring and he didn’t run all out when he came back after the second because he didn’t want to further diminish his paycheck as a free agent.

These are facts.

Reyes’s hamstrings are a weak point whether or not it’s admitted by those who lament the Mets decision to let him depart without an aggressive offer.

The Marlins haven’t found a utility infielder to play shortstop in case of such an eventuality. I suppose Emilio Bonifacio could play shortstop, but he’s not very good defensively at the position; then again, neither is Ramirez. Bonifacio is serviceable at third; the Marlins would be better off with Ramirez at short and either Bonifacio or solid defender Matt Dominguez playing third for however long Reyes is out.

But would they do that?

And would Ramirez get more aggravated than he already is about the shifting back-and-forth?

The Yankees made it a point not to move Alex Rodriguez to shortstop whenever Derek Jeter was out for a day or two when it would’ve made sense. A-Rod was a better defensive shortstop than Jeter’s ever been, but as a conciliatory gesture to Jeter, they didn’t do it. It was silly, but understandable.

Would the Marlins do the same thing? If they do, they’d better get themselves a backup infielder who can play short.

With Ramirez, the silence has been deafening since the public pronouncement that he didn’t want to move to third. The team has successfully tamped down the drama, but it hasn’t been settled. It’s clear they’re not going to trade Ramirez unless he out-and-out demands it and he’s an important part of their offense; for all the flashy moves they’ve made, they’re still flawed at the back of their starting rotation and defensively shaky.

If it gets messy during the season, the Marlins might put Ramirez on the market. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause; he’s signed through 2014 for $46.5 million; if he’s hitting and healthy, he’d bring back multiple pieces—big ones.

The Marlins have shown no mercy in making trades and in spite of Ramirez’s status as a favored son of owner Jeffrey Loria, Loria needs the team to win next year; he’s not going to sacrifice the season and mitigate this winter’s spending spree to placate any player, even one he thinks so highly of and has enabled since his arrival.

There are already people around the Marlins that have had enough of Ramirez’s selfishness and laziness and felt he should’ve been traded away before now.

He’s not being selfish now because he’s not wrong. The Marlins have spent so much money on outsiders while not taking care of Ramirez as the Rockies and Brewers took care of their cornerstones Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun with extensions on top of similar extensions as the one Ramirez had signed in 2008.

But he was wrong in the other instances and allowed to get away with his behaviors; he won a power struggle with Fredi Gonzalez; he survived being threatened by Andre Dawson. Is it so farfetched to think that the opposite can happen in 2012 if the world is crumbling around a disappointing Marlins club in need of a spark?

No.

Ramirez is a name to watch at mid-season because there are all the ingredients in place for a blockbuster.

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Viewer Mail 3.14.2011

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Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Chuck Greenberg and Cliff Lee:

Seeing Greenberg get the boot from the Rangers made me smile. And btw, he didn’t “fire back” at the Yankees; he was the one who fired the first shot and the Yankees responded, at which point he meekly apologized. As for Lee, I agree that his responses are honest and that his straightforward, no-nonsense attitude is part of what makes him such a great pitcher.

Tying the responses to the Lee/Greenberg comments shows an interesting dichotomy. Jane’s a (mostly) rational fan, but Greenberg’s pokes at the Yankees struck a nerve. I don’t think Greenberg was sorry; he was apologizing because of pressure from MLB itself and, obviously given his ouster, Nolan Ryan.

In the realm of rationality, I doubt most Yankee fans are going to share the grudging admiration for Lee; he’s persona non grata at Yankee Stadium because he refused the Yankees money and isn’t shy about saying why—all the more reason to believe him when he says the spitting incident in the ALCS had nothing to do with anything; clearly he had a list of reasons why he spurned the Yankees that superseded his wife being spit on. And that’s not good.

Joe writes RE the luck/intelligence argument with Johan Santana, the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron:

Well “lucky” only has so much to do with it. I don’t know that they knew anything anyway. But it is obvious the risk associated with pitchers on long-term deals. The problem with that, is the Red Sox handed out long, expensive contracts to Lackey and Beckett after that. And the Yankees to CC and Burnett. And Johan at the time, was better than at least 3 of those guys. So their philosophy either changed some, or well, I don’t know.

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I am not sold on Ellsbury offensively or defensively either. But I think he can be a decent player this year. And Cameron offers much more flexibility playing in RF and DH’ing against some lefties. And he can play some center too, of course. Also, he is 37 now. So having him play sometimes, rather than everyday, should benefit him, keeping him healthy and fresh.

Of the names you mention, the only contract comparable to Santana’s is C.C. Sabathia‘s; in fact, the Red Sox got both John Lackey and Josh Beckett for close to what the Mets gave Santana in guaranteed money. Lackey’s contract is nearly identical to that of A.J. Burnett.

I still hold to the argument that neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox wanted Santana. They knew they’d have to surrender Jon Lester/Phil Hughes and then give Santana that contract to keep him. The fears regarding any hindsight-laden “expertise” have conveniently coincided with Santana’s injury.

Regarding Cameron/Ellsbury, the logic is that they have Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava so they can afford to move Cameron.

The same argument holds for keeping Cameron and dealing Ellsbury; in fact, they’d get more in a trade for Ellsbury than they would for Cameron and the reasons are more applicable to those you imply are in favor of keeping Cameron—age and wear; plus Ellsbury costs nearly nothing financially for the foreseeable future.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Marlins:

Do you think the Marlins are contenders? Or are you just saying that they’re ahead of the Mets?

The Marlins are talented but flawed.

Their defense is atrocious and unless they take the reins off Matt Dominguez and shut their eyes, they’re relegated to either using Wes Helms or some configuration of Chris Coghlan, Omar Infante and Emilio Bonifacio at third/second base; using Coghlan would require a panicky shift of positions as they have Coghlan in center field—a position he’s never played as a professional.

I’m not a fan of the drastic bullpen alterations they’ve made.

The rotation is young a supremely talented; the lineup will score.

But do you see the mismatched puzzle pieces of the Marlins?

They have a starting rotation that, for the most part, gives up an even number of hit balls to the outfield and infield and a terrible outfield defense; they have a lineup of mashers and an inexperienced manager—Edwin Rodriguez—on a 1-year contract who, in his brief time last season, preferred small ball to going for the big inning.

It doesn’t fit.

They are contenders for the Wild Card at least, but it all has to go right. For everything to go right, there has to be continuity from the front office to the manager to the rest of the roster.

It’s not there.

Given their looming questions and the new ballpark set to open next year, I still believe that Bobby Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point, but by the time that happens they’ll too far out of first place to be factors in the division race.

As for the Wild Card? They can hang around and hope for a hot streak to swipe it.

But I don’t see it.

And yes, the Marlins are better than the Mets.

The above bit about the Marlins is what you can expect (albeit in greater detail) based on stats and rational/deep-strike analysis from my book.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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