Knicks, Oakley and organizational estrangement

Basketball, MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

madison-square-gardenThe incident at Madison Square Garden in which former New York Knicks player and longtime fan favorite Charles Oakley was arrested for a confrontation with arena security has yielded a visceral reaction from fans and media members who see Oakley as the epitome of what the current Knicks are missing. As a player, he did the dirty work, protected his teammates and was the “lunch pail” guy – the ones no team or business in general can function successfully without and whose work is largely appreciated in every context but the stat sheet. Long since retired, Oakley does not have an official role with the organization.

Given their current plight with team president Phil Jackson viewed as a disinterested observer of a team he was tasked – and received a contract for close to $12 million annually – to rebuild and owner Jim Dolan’s perceived ineptitude, it’s no wonder that the anger is reaching explosive proportions.

Regardless of the negative views of Jackson and his commitment and Dolan and his competence, is Oakley to be granted the benefit of the doubt for his behavior when no one seems to know what the dispute was even about? There must be a separation between what a player might have represented to the organization in the past and what is good for business in the future.

Every sport has these uncomfortable situations of trying to respect the past, granting deference to those who played an integral role in it and doing what’s right for the organization in the present and future. Not all reach the level of embarrassment as Oakley and the Knicks, but they’re everywhere. Legacy jobs are often harmless as long as there’s no actual decision making involved with them, but when a person is given a role without the ability to function in it effectively, it’s like a virus.

Sandy Alderson’s New York Mets regime has faced passive aggressive criticism from former Mets stars Howard Johnson and Mookie Wilson among others for their abandonment of the team’s past, but the biggest name that has elicited an over the top reaction is Wally Backman. This in spite of the Mets giving Backman a job as a minor league manager when no one else would; in spite of him repeatedly angering Alderson and his lieutenants for going off the reservation, for self-promoting, and for being the last thing anyone wants in a minor league manager: visible. In September of 2016, Backman either left the organization of his own accord or was fired – it’s still fuzzy – smothering his supporters’ lingering hopes that he would be given a chance as, at a minimum, a coach on Terry Collins’s staff.

By now, it’s clear to anyone who can read between even the flimsiest of lines that Backman only lasted as long as he did with the Mets because of his popularity with the fans and that the Wilpons were protecting him from Alderson’s axe. There are still conspiracy theories speculating about the real genesis of Alderson’s issues with Backman and whether Backman has been blackballed or not.

The only thing we have to go on is what’s happened. With that, if Backman truly is the managerial genius his fans purport him to be, it only worsens the practical reality that no affiliated club will hire him in any capacity. That Backman, for lack of big league opportunities, needed to take a job in the Mexican League is conveniently ignored in the narrative of negativity that still surrounds the Mets even as they’ve won a pennant, made the playoffs as a wild card and are a favorite to contend for a World Series in 2017, all under Alderson and Collins.

Ozzie Smith was angry with the way Tony La Russa reduced his role in 1996 and basically forced him out when Smith wanted to keep playing after that season.

Smith is royalty with the Cardinals and was treated as such by Whitey Herzog and his successor Joe Torre. By the time La Russa arrived, he was unattached to the Cardinals’ past. The club had been declining for several years, sparking the hiring of La Russa to begin with. Was La Russa supposed to enter the 1996 season relying on a 41-year-old Smith who had batted .199 the previous year? Or should he have pinned his hopes on what Smith had been five years before to keep from angering fans who want to have a winning team but also want to continue treating their stars with blind loyalty?

In his lone year playing for La Russa, Smith had a solid comeback season showing a portion of his fielding genius and batting .282 in 82 games, sharing the job with Royce Clayton. Could he have maintained that over the course of the season at that age? Could La Russa bank on that? Deferring to the past has its place, but when there are substantive changes made, collateral damage is unavoidable. La Russa didn’t go to St. Louis to mess around with what was already there and had finished 19 games below .500 in 1995. Caught in the crossfire was Smith. He’s still bitter about it, but who can argue with the success the Cardinals had under La Russa? Now had the club been worse under La Russa than it was under the prior, old-school Cardinals front office or Clayton fallen flat on his face, then there would have been a larger contingent of angry fans and media members standing behind Smith just as Knicks fans are doing with Oakley.

Tom Landry was unceremoniously fired by Jerry Jones in 1989 when Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys. When Jones made the clumsy and necessary decision and subsequently walked face first into a public relations buzz saw, no one on this or any other planet could have envisioned that less than three decades later, Jones would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to take his place among the sport’s luminaries along with Landry.

In retrospect, the same fans and media members who were outraged at the crude dispatching of Landry had been privately saying that the coach needed to go and a full overhaul was needed. Jones, in telling his predecessor Bum Bright that he was not buying the team unless he was able to replace Landry with Jimmy Johnson, was setting the conditions that many advocated but few had the guts to follow through upon. By the time the Cowboys’ rebuild was completed four years later and culminated with a Super Bowl (and two more in the next three years), no one cared whether Landry would acknowledge Jones or still felt embittered about his dismissal.

The insular nature of sports front offices is exactly what owners sought to get away from when they hired outsiders from other industries to take charge. Before that, a large percentage of former players who rose to upper level positions in a front office did so not because of competence or skill at the job they were hired to do, but as a form of patronage. That is no longer the case and invites a backlash. When Jeff Luhnow was hired to run the Houston Astros and gutted the place down to its exoskeleton, the on-field product was so hideous and former Astros stars so callously discarded that the response was inevitable: he had abandoned luminaries and made the product worse. The Astros are contenders now and the groundswell is largely muted even if the anger is still there.

Giving former star performers a ceremonial title is not done to grant them sway with the club. It’s a placating measure to engender goodwill with the fans and media. When that comes undone, incidents like the Knicks and Oakley exacerbate current problems and provide evidence of ongoing and unstoppable turmoil.

The issue for the Knicks is that they’re in such disarray that this type of incident involving a player who was a key component of their glory years will be magnified.

The Oakley incident can be viewed as the nadir of the Knicks under Jackson and Dolan based on nothing more than Oakley having been a favorite of the fans and the media during his playing career and representing a past that is so far in the rearview mirror that a large bulk of younger fans are unlikely to believe it even existed in the first place. It occurred directly on the heels of a typically cryptic Jackson tweet that seemed to disparage Carmelo Anthony and sent the team president and “Zen master” into familiar spin control only contributes to their perceived dysfunction. If the Knicks were riding high and this happened, the reaction would have been that Oakley needs to know his place. Since they’re not, it’s symbolic of that which ails the club.

Adhering to the past might be palatable, particularly when Oakley-type incidents take place, but there needs to be a separation between what’s happening within the organization and its outskirts even if they appear to be inextricably connected.

Are the Mets really blackballing Wally Backman?

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

backman-picWally Backman is asserting that the New York Mets in general and general manager Sandy Alderson in particular have blackballed him in an effort to prevent him from getting another job with a major league organization, something he has yet to do in any capacity since he left the Mets in September. With that the case, Backman accepted a position to manage Monclova in the Mexican League this season.

Backman alleges that he has inside information from a friend in the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office who informed him of what Alderson is doing. In addition, he disputes the “resigned” narrative that was presented at the time of his departure even though it was he who stated that he walked away.

Backman also claims that Jeff Wilpon “betrayed” him. This ignores the reality that it was Wilpon who essentially forced Alderson to accept Backman as a minor league manager for his entire tenure as GM. Had Alderson been granted his wishes from the start, Backman would not have played an upfront role in the organization, particularly not as the steward to the team’s best young players.

While Alderson is an easy scapegoat, what seems to have happened is that Backman, understandably, had grown weary of languishing in Triple A and wanted to be moved up to Terry Collins’s coaching staff and the Mets refused. Had the Mets been willing to do that, it would have happened after the 2015 season when bench coach Bob Geren departed for the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, Alderson chose Dick Scott. Again, after 2016 with Tim Teufel being removed from the coaching staff, the Mets selected Glenn Sherlock to serve as third base coach and catching coach.

There was no opening for Backman and one was not forthcoming. Yet his decision to leave was done in a typical Backman fit of pique without understanding that it was not the Mets holding him back, but holding him up by giving him a job when no one else would have. There’s no doubt that Backman is an intense competitor, a good and wizened baseball mind, and fearless enough that he might be exactly what a team in the need of a kick start could use. But there’s a reason no one will hire him whether it’s his past, his reputation as a loose cannon, or something else. This has nothing to do with the team that did give him a job, the Mets.

Is it possible that Alderson is bad-mouthing Backman to prevent him from getting a job with the implication that a successful run from Backman with another organization and a chance at managing in the big leagues could end up embarrassing the Mets?

Anything is possible. However, a better question to ask is whether it’s likely. The answer is no.

In what is expected to be his final season as the everyday GM before retiring, moving to a senior role, or doing something else entirely, Alderson certainly has better things to do at age 69 than to orchestrate a whisper campaign against Backman, whom he clearly considers a non-entity. The likelier scenario is that the other MLB teams know Backman’s history and there are behind-the-scenes reasons for which he’s not getting hired. If asked for a recommendation, Alderson’s not going to give him one. As a professional, Alderson would presumably give the positives and negatives of Backman and leave it there without going to the energy-sapping lengths to overtly interfere with a job offer from another team.

What this appears to be is Backman leaving the Mets and thinking his work with the organization for six years and his on-field success was sufficient to cover up the warts before gauging the job market and if he was a candidate for any open position in MLB or the affiliated minors. Since his on-field baseball credentials are good enough to get a job, his inability to do so creates the image that there’s something up, true or not.

With his statements against Alderson and the Mets, he didn’t do himself any favors. Like most of the problems Backman has had in his attempts to manage in the big leagues, they’re predominately of his own making and the blackball explanation is another diversionary tactic that few will, and should, believe.

Bobby Valentine as ambassador to Japan is no joke

MLB, Politics, Uncategorized

bobby-vThe news that former major league player and manager Bobby Valentine might be a candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan under President-elect Donald J. Trump has yielded incredulity while ignoring the reality that he actually has credentials for the job.

Valentine can be described neatly in one simple word: polarizing. This new career opportunity only adds to that perception.

His supporters swear by him; his detractors swear at him.

He’s one of the most skillful strategic managers in baseball history, innovative and gutsy – just ask him and he’ll tell you. That’s part of the problem. His ego and nature as a hardliner has also made him one the most reviled people in the sport.

Through his baseball career, he’s garnered connections that have resulted in a wide array of unique endeavors. For example, Valentine claims to have invented the wrap sandwich in his Connecticut restaurant; he oversaw public safety in Stamford, CT in a cabinet post for the city’s mayor; and he’s a close friend of former President George W. Bush in spite of Bush having fired him as manager of the Texas Rangers.

This is before getting into his career as an athlete. One of the true multi-sport stars coming out of high school, he was also a competitor in ballroom dancing. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him fifth overall in the 1969 amateur draft one selection after the New York Yankees picked Thurman Munson. It was with that organization that his greatness was predicted, his lifelong father-son relationship with Tommy Lasorda started, he became loathed by his teammates for that “teacher’s pet” persona, and injuries sabotaged his talent.

Once his playing career ended, he embarked on a coaching career that led to him being viewed as a wunderkind manager with the Rangers; he went to Japan when his didn’t get another opportunity for a big league job after his dismissal in Texas; and eventually landed with the New York Mets, winning a pennant, before he was fired in a power struggle with general manager Steve Phillips. Then there was the disastrous year as Boston Red Sox manager in which he is blamed for a litany of issues that fermented the year before under Theo Epstein and Terry Francona and whose stink manifested and grew poisonous while he was steering the damaged ship.

He’s certainly eclectic and has forged a number of relationships sparking a cauterized loyalty among friends and mocking and ridicule among enemies. There are many on both counts.

Without getting into politics and the inevitable battle lines that accompany it, the Trump administration appointing Valentine as ambassador to Japan might, on the surface, seem silly. In truth, it’s not. The tentacles connecting Valentine to all the players in this drama boost his qualifications to take the job. He speaks Japanese, understands the culture, is well-regarded in the country as the second American-born man to manage a Japanese team and the first to win a championship there. He’s an experienced public speaker and has managed a great number of diverse personalities in different settings than this ambassadorship where bureaucratic necessities will regulate the behaviors of underlings in a sharply different way to what he grew accustomed to in baseball.

As with all things Valentine, there’s a caveat to appointing him and it could potentially explode with one “Bobby V” moment. Putting on a fake mustache and glasses and returning to the dugout after having been ejected while managing the Mets; picking unnecessary fights with his star players Todd Hundley and Kevin Youkilis among others; courting outrage with the media for his condescending arrogance; and refusing to be flexible when it meant the difference between keeping his job and getting fired all validate his reputation that ranges from difficult to a ticking time-bomb.

Does he do it on purpose? Is it the nature of his personality to be difficult? Or is it a combination of the two?

In his baseball career, he was a tactician without tact. Should he take an ambassadorship to Japan too seriously, there’s the potential of an international incident.

But the job isn’t one that is designated to someone who has to save the world. The current ambassador to Japan is Caroline Kennedy – most famously known as the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. It was basically her lineage that made her a candidate to get the job and she doesn’t speak Japanese. Why was her appointment acceptable when Valentine’s isn’t?

This is not a partisan issue. Every president doles sweetheart assignments to people who were big contributors or prominent supporters to the campaign as a form of reciprocity. The difference with Valentine is that in spite of his lack of skills as a diplomat in his baseball career, he has the qualifications for the job if it was advertised in an open job search and he applied for it. So what’s the joke?

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MLB managers starting 2015 on the hotseat

MLB

It’s never too early to speculate on managers that might be in trouble sooner rather than later. Let’s look at who’s going to open the season on the hotseat.

John Gibbons – Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have a weird contract structure in which Gibbons’s contract rolls over with an option kicking on on January 1st each year, therefore he’s never a lame duck.

Gibbons is a good tactical manager, but he’s never had any notable success. It can’t be said that he hasn’t had the talent in his second go-round as Blue Jays manager either as they’ve spent and brought in big names and All-Stars. Some aspects of the teamwide failure – such as injuries to the likes of Josh Johnson in 2013 – are not his fault. In fact, it’s hard to blame him for the failures of the team. Even with that, someone has to take the fall if the Blue Jays stumble again with the American League East as wide open as it’s been since the mid-1990s.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to blame Gibbons or anyone else for the team’s struggles since they became aggressive with their spending. After an extended flirtation amid questionable tactics and circumstances with Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette their first choice to replace Paul Beeston as CEO and Beeston remaining as team CEO for 2015, Anthopoulos might be swept up in a housecleaning of the front office and on-field staff if this season is another mediocre one in Toronto. It’s easier to change the front office and manager than it is to clear out veteran players with onerous contracts. If the Blue Jays are faltering early in the season, Anthopoulos will have to take steps to fix it with a new manager.

A.J. Hinch – Houston Astros

No, Hinch isn’t on the hotseat because the current front office might fire him if the Astros get off to a bad start, but he’s on the hotseat because the front office might be on the hotseat if the Astros get off to a bad start.

Owner Jim Crane has high – you could even say ludicrous – expectations for this season believing they’re going to make a playoff run. He’s shown unwavering support to GM Jeff Luhnow and his blueprint, but the weight of Luhnow’s gaffes are becoming too heavy to ignore. If it’s late August and the Astros are again mired in last place in a very difficult AL West and the young players upon whom they’re banking their collective futures experience the often inevitable struggles young players experience, then the groundswell for wholesale changes will be too much for Crane to ignore. If Crane fires everyone in favor of Nolan Ryan, then no one, including the new manager, stat guy darling Hinch, will be safe.

Terry Collins – New York Mets

The Mets are expecting to contend this season and Collins is on the last year of his contract. The argument could be made that he’s served his purpose of steering the ship as best he could while the team rebuilt and waited for long-term contracts of useless veterans to expire. It’s not unusual for teams to have a competent, veteran caretaker manager who runs the club through the tough years and then bring in someone else when the front office believes they’re ready to win.

Collins will get the beginning of the season to see if they win under his stewardship. He’s earned that after playing the good soldier and keeping things in line for four years. However, if the team is off to a 9-15 start and there are calls for someone’s head before the season spirals out of control, Collins will be gone.

Mike Redmond – Miami Marlins

Just looking at owner Jeffrey Loria’s Steinbrennerean history with his managers is enough to say that even a successful manager shouldn’t feel too comfortable with his job status. He’s had seven different managers since he took over the team in 2002 and hired Jack McKeon twice. He fires people for a multitude of reasons and won’t hesitate before doing it again. When his teams have expectations, he’s got an even quicker trigger finger. Some believe that the Marlins are set to be legitimate contenders in 2015 putting Redmond in the position of being the obvious target if they get off to a poor start.

At the end of the 2014 season, Redmond signed an extension through 2017, but so what? Loria is still paying Ozzie Guillen for 2015. He’ll fire anyone regardless of contract status. Presumably, he won’t hire the 84-year-old McKeon to replace Redmond, but he’ll find someone to take the job and perhaps fire him at the end of the season too.

Ron Roenicke – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers thought long and hard about it before deciding to bring Roenicke back for the 2015 season. They essentially collapsed over the second half of the 2014 season after a first half in which they were a surprise contender. That the team wasn’t particularly good to begin with and were playing over their heads when they achieved their heights in the first few months doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that the team faltered under Roenicke that could lead to a change. He’s got a contract option for 2016 and with the team set to struggle in 2015, he’ll be the scapegoat. He’s not a particularly good manager to begin with, so whomever they hire won’t have a tough act to follow.

Don Mattingly – Los Angeles Dodgers

It would look pretty stupid for the Dodgers to fire Mattingly after new team president Andrew Friedman ran from the idea of Joe Maddon taking over after Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and went to the Chicago Cubs. Mattingly isn’t a particularly good manager, but the Dodgers failings in his tenure haven’t been his fault. They’re altering the way the team is put together and need a manager who will follow the stat-centered template they’re trying to implement. Having trained under Joe Torre and played under the likes of Billy Martin and Buck Showalter, it’s hard to see Mattingly willingly and blindly doing whatever the front office says in terms of strategy.

The Dodgers made some odd moves this winter and got worse instead of better. If they get off to a bad start, Mattingly could finally be shown the door for someone who’s more amenable to what Friedman was hired to create.

Bud Black – San Diego Padres

Amid ownership changes, general manager changes and constant flux in the way the ballclub has been constructed, the one constant with the Padres over the past eight years has been manager Bud Black. Black is lauded for his handling of pitchers and running the clubhouse. The media likes him. He’s terrible when it comes to formulating an offensive game plan and this Padres team, reconstructed under new GM A.J. Preller, will be as reliant on its offense as it will be on pitching. He has to actually manage the team this year and his strategies will be imperative to whether the team is an 80 win disappointment or an 86-90 win contender for a playoff spot. That’s not a small thing. Black has overseen two separate late-season collapses in 2007 and 2010 in which mistakes he made were significant influences to the Padres missing the playoffs.

Preller has been aggressive and unrepentant in getting rid of players that were present when he arrived and in whom he had no investment. Black falls into that category. Black is in the final year of his contract and in spite of his likability is hindered by his predecessor, lifelong Padres player and manager Bruce Bochy, having won three World Series titles with the rival San Francisco Giants.

He won’t have much time to show that he can run this sort of team and will be fired quickly if he can’t.

Michael Kay’s Diet Coke Stunt: Just For The Lack Of Taste Of It

History, Management, Media, Players, Television

Michael Kay’s first show as the new simulcast of his ESPN radio show on the YES Network replacing Mike Francesa’s WFAN show began with an act that is indicative of what we can expect moving forward. Hopes that Kay would alter his sycophancy, self-promotion, pettiness and pretentious ridiculousness were dashed immediately after 3 p.m. EST on February 3. As the show began, on display in front of Kay was a bottle of Diet Coke. After their introduction, Kay’s flunky/partner Don La Greca lifted a garbage can up for all to see and Kay theatrically tossed the bottle into the trash.

For those not familiar with the reference, Francesa always has an open bottle of Diet Coke in front of him from the beginning of the show to the end. It’s become a running joke known to frequent viewers. In a misguided attempt at humor; to flaunt the fact that he’s replacing Francesa; or simply because he’s obnoxious, Kay’s childish, poorly planned and blatant moment of flamboyance did little more than validate the reputation he’s carried with him since his rise to prominence on Yankees broadcasts first on the radio then for the YES Network. Constantly fighting battles that only he sees or cares about, Kay’s penchant for carrying out personal vendettas over the smallest perceived slights has blurred the line that he himself created as he portrays himself as an objective sports analyst while simultaneously being an employee of the Yankees rooting for, promoting and self-righteously “protecting” the brand.

Lest anyone believe that his new gig with his show being on YES in lieu of Francesa’s would lead to an altering of that template that he’s crafted. The Diet Coke stunt—and that’s what it was, a stunt—clearly indicated that it’s going to be more of the same from Kay. In fact, it might get worse.

What was the purpose of it? It wasn’t a knee-jerk idea that they did without thinking about it. If it was, where’d they get the bottle of Diet Coke? Saying something stupid can be done in a split-second. To put forth the effort to go and find a bottle of Diet Coke, strategically place it in front of him for all to see knowing that Francesa-watchers would understand the symbolism and have his partner pick up the trash can to dispose of it in such florid fashion took planning. It wasn’t well-thought out, it wasn’t funny and, unless Kay’s intent was to say, “Hey, I’m still a jerk!”, it wasn’t necessary.

And that’s the key. If Kay was truly trying to go mainstream and stake a claim for his show as a nationwide entity, he’d have to tone down his act from a Yankees shill who behaves as a petulant infant using his forum to promote his own agenda and alter his persona and content. Whether that was ever a consideration is known only to Kay. Or perhaps he thinks he is toning down his act which would be even more disturbing considering his initial move on the open of his show on YES.

Kay has his shtick that he’s used ad nauseam since he arrived in the Yankees radio booth. From the over-descriptive “interlocking N and Y” as if he’s painting the word picture for someone who’d never ever seen the Yankees hats and uniforms; to the lame catchphrase of “See ya!!!” on a home run; to the “Lllllet’s do it!!” at the first pitch; to the recitation of Billy Joel lyrics to conclude each and every radio show as if he’s doing something different from the rest of the radio talk show world, it’s all about him and what he believes people want to hear from him.

If asked about it, Kay would undoubtedly say, “The fans expect it from me.” It’s irrelevant whether or not he’s aware that the expectation lies more in the reality that he’s the goofy, annoying guy at the party with the lampshade on his head thinking people are laughing at his antics when the truth is they’re laughing because he’s making an idiot of himself and they’re too used to it to tell him to leave.

He enjoys hearing his own voice and insinuating himself into the moment as if the treasured memories of fans extends to his voicing of the narrative. Derek Jeter hits a home run for his 3,000th career hit? The moment has to be endured rather than enjoyed with Kay’s voiceover reading from a prepared and sickening speech about Jeter’s greatness. The Yankees win game 1 of the 2010 ALCS in a startling comeback over the Rangers? Kay takes that as his cue to pronounce the series over after the first game against a very good team that eventually wound up dumping the Yankees in six games. Joe Torre takes on Kay during his tenure as manager? Kay treats it as a personal affront and kicks Torre on the way out the door following his ouster claiming that he “protected” the former manager as if that was part of his stated job description.

His claims of objectivity are exposed as transient when the sets of rules by which he purports to base his analysis are conveniently ignored when the Yankees violate his principles. If it’s the Red Sox or Mets, there’s a “right” way to do things and for the most part, they don’t adhere to it. With the Yankees, there’s a separate, superior plane on which they walk because of their “rich tapestry of history.” Jose Reyes is removed from a game to win a batting title, and the Mets have gotten it “wrong” from “day one.” Bernie Williams does it and it’s glossed over for no reason other than he’s a Yankee.

You can’t be the objective analyst on the radio, then walk into the Yankees booth and blatantly push an organizational perspective as if he’s the game time front man of their PR department. You can’t be a friendly and nice guy off the air and then behave like a buffoon on the air when taking shots at the supposed competition.

That’s another dichotomy with Kay that is difficult to reconcile with the fool who took his pathetic and uncreative shot at Francesa: everyone who meets Kay off the air says he’s one of the nicest and most accommodating media people you could hope to meet. He’s friendly; he takes the time to talk to people; and is likable. Is that the real person? Is the radio personality staged? Or is it both? There are plenty of people in the media—in the New York market especially—who create an image of the generous, nice person and off the air they’re arrogant, condescending, dismissive and hypocritical.

Kay may believe that he got the YES gig because of his talents. In truth, he replaced Francesa because the organization wanted someone who was more in line with the club mandate of showing the Yankees in a positive light on the broadcast arm of their ministry of propaganda. Even with that, he could have begun the show in a positive manner. He could have said something to the tune of, “I know there are people who would prefer the other show to be seen in this timeslot; that many don’t even like me. But I’m here now and I hope you’ll give me a chance. I put on a good show. It’s a different show, but it’s good. The only way you’ll be able to decide is to listen objectively without any preconceived notions.” How would that have been viewed rather than tossing a bottle of Diet Coke in the garbage? He got attention he wanted, but it’s been universally lambasted. It wasn’t clever and it was gutless. Francesa himself summed it up when he replied to Newsday’s Neil Best’s query about it by saying, “Classless, loser move from two guys I have been burying in the ratings for over a decade.”

Like Francesa or not, he hit it right on the button.

If Kay’s intention was to give the new listeners and viewers a summary of what to expect from his YES show and wanted to do it in one brief and ill-advised move, mission accomplished. If YES isn’t already regretting their decision to choose brand loyalty over business, then they will be soon as Kay’s act destroys ratings and ruins what they built with Francesa over the course of his twelve years having his simulcast broadcast on their network. They won’t admit the mistake, but they made one. That became clear by 3:10 p.m. on February 3. Ten minutes after the start of a new era on the YES Network.




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The Positives and Negatives of Stephen Drew for the Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Mets have spent the last three seasons fielding a lien-up rather than a lineup. Since the Bernie Madoff scandal and the conscious decision to rebuild from the bottom up in part due to finances and in part because it was what they needed to do, the Mets haven’t spent significant money on any players. In retrospect, it will be seen as a positive that the team didn’t overpay and give up a draft pick for Michael Bourn or any of the other players Mets fans were demanding they sign for pretense and little benefit on the field.

Now that they’re free of the onerous contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana, the Mets have invested some of their available cash to improve the lineup with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. They bolstered the starting rotation with Bartolo Colon. There’s a public debate as to whether they should sign the still-floating free agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Let’s look at how Drew fits for the Mets.

Cost

Drew’s market is hindered by the relatively few number of teams that need a shortstop and are willing to pay what agent Scott Boras wants. A year ago, Drew signed with the Red Sox for one year and $9.5 million with the intention of replenishing his value for a big-money contract. He replenished his value all right, but the big-money contracts have yet to present themselves. Drew was everything the Red Sox could have asked for. He was solid defensively, hit for pop with 50 extra base hits, and had an OPS of .777 which was close to his career average.

The problem for Drew remaining in Boston as appears to be his preference is that the Red Sox have a ready-made replacement for him at shortstop in young Xander Bogearts. They also have a competent third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. Neither are expensive and both can make up for Drew’s departure if the price isn’t similar – or slightly higher – than what the Red sox paid for him last season. If his price drops, then the Red Sox will gladly take him back, but it won’t be for a multi-year deal and they don’t need him.

The Yankees have already said they’re out on Drew and it’s not because they don’t need him. They do. But they’re tied to keeping Derek Jeter at shortstop and the idea of signing Drew to move him to third base is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who can see the reality that Jeter will not be able to play a competent defensive shortstop at age 40 as he returns from a serious ankle injury.

Drew has few alternatives other than the Mets and Red Sox. The Mets are being coy and the Red Sox are waiting him out. The Mets can get him if they decide they want him. A decision that they want him would mean they have to pay him. A three-year, $30-33 million deal would probably get it done. Are they willing to do that? Can they afford it?

How he fits

Drew is a clear upgrade over Ruben Tejada offensively and defensively. Tejada can play, but he’s never going to hit for the power that Drew does; he’s similar defensively; and he’s got a reputation of being lazy. The main attribute of Tejada for the Mets is that he’s cheap. But with the signings of Granderson and Young and that they’re intending to start the season with the still questionable Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud in center field and catcher respectively, they’re running the risk of having three dead spots in the lineup before the season even begins. With Drew, they’d know what they’re getting and he would at least counteract Lagares and d’Arnaud. Drew is an up-the-middle hitter and his power comes when he pulls the ball. He wouldn’t be hindered by Citi Field and he’d hit his 10 homers and double-digit triples.

No matter how superlative he is defensively, the Mets won’t go through the whole season with Lagares in center field if he doesn’t hit. They’ll simply shift Young to center for more offense. They’re committed to d’Arnaud and he’ll play every day no matter what. If they want to have a chance for respectability and perhaps more, they can’t worry about whether they’re getting the Tejada from 2013 or the Tejada from 2011-2012. And the Tejada from 2011-2012 was serviceable and useful, but not close to what Drew can do.

With Drew, the Mets would be better in 2014 when they’re striving for respectability and in 2015 when Matt Harvey returns and they clearly have designs on contending.

The Mets pitching staff is not one that racks up a lot of strikeouts. The left side of the infield with Drew and David Wright will be excellent. Daniel Murphy is mediocre at best at second base. Lucas Duda is a solid defensive first baseman. With Lagares in center field, they have a Gold Glove candidate. Young can play the position well. They’re better in all facets of the game with Drew, plus they’re getting offense they will not get with Tejada. The difference between 77-85 and also-ran status and 85-77 and bordering on the fringes of contention might be Drew. That makes the signing worthwhile for on-field purposes.

His Drew-ness

The Drew family has long been known for its prodigious baseball talent. They’re the physical prototypes for baseball players. Along with that, they’ve been the prototypes for Boras clients.

J.D. Drew sat out a year rather than sign with the Phillies when he was drafted second overall in 1997. They didn’t meet his contract demands. The Cardinals drafted him fifth overall the next season and he signed. He was an excellent player for the Cardinals, but flummoxed manager Tony LaRussa with his lack of passion and aloofness. He was traded to the Braves for Adam Wainwright as the Braves expected him to be happier closer to his home. He had his career year and left to sign with the Dodgers. He spent two years in Los Angeles, then exercised an opt-out in his contract to go to the Red Sox.

In short, he was never happy with where he was and was constantly looking for the next opportunity. It could have had to do with money or it might have had to do with a wanderlust. Or he could simply have been treating the game as a business and listening to every single word uttered by the Svengali, Boras.

Stephen Drew has many of the same traits as his brother. Both are injury-prone, though Stephen is not hurt to the extent that his brother was; both are supremely talented and never appear happy where they are; both wanted to get paid and might be making decisions detrimental to their careers in listening to every whisper from their agent.

In retrospect, should Stephen have accepted the Red Sox qualifying offer and tried for free agency in another year when it’s pretty much a certainty that the Yankees are going to be looking for a replacement for Jeter and will be free of any financial constraints? Probably. Does he regret not taking it? We’ll never know because the Drews don’t rattle the Boras cage.

If the Mets go hard after Drew, there’s the possibility that they’re being used to get the Red Sox or the famed Boras “mystery team” to ante up and top the offer. For the Mets, while it wouldn’t be catastrophic not to get Drew, it would extinguish much of the good will they did accumulate by signing Granderson and Colon if they pursued him and failed to reel him in.

The conclusion

The Mets should go after Drew and see whether they can get him at a reasonable price. If Boras will take something in the neighborhood of three-years at $30-33 million, the Mets would have a bridge shortstop until former first round draft pick Gavin Cecchini is ready. They’d be better in the short term and definitely have someone who could help them do what the true intention is: contend in 2015. If Boras is being unreasonable or the feeling is that they’re just waiting for the Red Sox to up the offer, the Mets should move on and figure something else out. If that means they’re hoping that Tejada decides he wants to play and shows up early and in shape, so be it.




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MLB Free Agents, Press Conferences and Respect

Ballparks, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The Yankees press conferences/coronations have always gone far beyond your ordinary, run-of-the-mill “I’ve always wanted to be a Yankee” lovefest with the unsaid truth that “they offered me the most money.” Therefore it was no surprise that Bob Lorenz referred to the upper echelon of the Yankees front office as “dignitaries” when the club introduced Jacoby Ellsbury last week.

Dignitaries? They’re guys who run a baseball team. Who thinks they’re dignitaries? Randy Levine is a dignitary? Brian Cashman is a dignitary? Joe Girardi is a dignitary? This is all part of the narrative that is put forth not just in a Yankees press conference, but press conferences across the board that are introducing the new player. The Yankees press conferences are generally banal, pompous and cliché. With Ellsbury, they added “creepy” to the list of adjectives as Girardi said to Ellsbury: “You’re no longer a thorn in our side. You’re a flower in our clubhouse.”

Uch.

Of course these florid displays are done in the interest of selling tickets, getting the photo ops holding up the uniform, uttering the by the book statements about how it had little to do with money and the state of the organization was the key component in the decision to sign. “I felt wanted.” “They treated me with respect.” “I’ve admired X, Y and Z from afar for a long time.” It’s a silent contract between the media and the clubs that there won’t be hardball questions launched on a day of advertising. Naturally this is diametrically opposed to the inherent implied intention based on the title of the event: press conference.

The Mariners press conference for Robinson Cano was much more interesting because of the shots Cano took against the Yankees. Much was made of Cano’s comments about being disrespected by the Yankees when he was introduced as the new Mariners’ second baseman.

Did he have a point or was he just giving a reason separate from the $240 million and no state income tax in Washington?

The term has different connotations based on the context. Respecting the process; respecting the people who are hired to do a job and letting them do it; respecting the players and what they want.

The term of “respect” isn’t to be dismissed out of hand.

When Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets after the 2004 season, he did so because the Mets offered the most money. But at the press conference, he said something interesting about the Red Sox. He asked why he had to wait for the team to offer him an extension after all the work he’d done for the franchise, most of which was gutty and brilliant? They put him off and put him off, letting him reach free agency where, like Cano, there was always the possibility that another team would go crazy to garner the headlines of stealing a star personality from a team that could afford him. In retrospect, the Red Sox were right to let Martinez leave and they did raise their offer further than was their preference to try and keep him. It would’ve been a “severance” contract because they knew he’d probably lose his effectiveness and get injured in the latter years of the deal. He rejected it and signed with the Mets.

Is it a similar dynamic with Cano and the Yankees? Can he feel offended when comparing his situation to what the Yankees did with Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran? The Yankees committed almost $200 million to those two players, one of whom is injury prone and the other who is going to be 37 in April. They were also prepared to spend $150 million on a Japanese pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, before the posting rules were changed.

“You have the money for them? A 37-year-old? An oft-injured former Red Sox? A Japanese pitcher who will be hit or miss? And you can’t pay me?” These are not selfish or stupid questions. Independent of the money, would you feel wanted and respected if your former team did that?

This has nothing to do with the wisdom of the decision. But the Yankees complaining about payroll issues and then tossing all of this money at Ellsbury, Beltran and the planned bid for Tanaka with more on the way doesn’t mesh with them doing everything possible to keep Cano.

If the Yankees had come close to the Mariners offer, would Cano have left? If they hadn’t signed a far inferior player, Ellsubry, to a $153 million contract with an option for $21 million in 2021, could they have convinced Cano to stay? Rest assured that the option has certain kickers that will guarantee it. They might be games played in the last two years of the deal or a number of at bats, but they’re there. If Ellsbury is healthy, he’ll reach the option. So with the deal they gave to Ellsbury, it matches what they offered Cano.

Wouldn’t you be insulted by that if you were Cano – a player who never misses games and was a homegrown talent – and saw himself offered the same money they gave to a player who’s constantly on the disabled list and isn’t nearly as good? Cano doesn’t seem to be the sentimental type and doesn’t care about having his uniform number retired or a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. But if he was and the Yankees tried to talk him into staying for less money, what was he staying for? Mariano Rivera is gone. Derek Jeter is on the way out. Alex Rodriguez may be gone. Andy Pettitte is gone. Eventually, he’d be the only one left from the old guard and it would fall to him to be the leader – something he clearly doesn’t want. So if they’re not offering the most money; not offering the guarantee of a championship run every year; and giving him the mystical future of a “historical place amongst Yankee greats” in lieu of everything else, why not go to Seattle?

In sports, the term “respect” doesn’t necessarily mean what it means in the workaday world. It means you’ll pay me and treat me as if you need and want me. Had the Yankees ponied up, Cano would’ve forgotten the slight and signed. Instead, he went where the money was and that happened to be Seattle. The idea that he wasn’t treated with respect may sound offensive to people who see the money he’s getting and think, “How dare he?!?” But in Cano’s world, it’s not out of line. It came down the money, but it also had to do with the Yankees deciding to pay Ellsbury instead as a preemptive strike in case Cano left. And he did.




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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.




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Ruben Tejada’s Possible Grievance Against the Mets

CBA, Games, History, Management, MiLB, Players, Spring Training, Stats

Ruben Tejada is considering filing a grievance against the Mets because they kept him in the minors to save an extra year of service time. The jokes regarding Tejada’s poor play are obvious. Did the Mets intentionally keep him in the minors to prevent him from accumulating the service time? Of course. They were brazen about it and there was no attempt at subterfuge. When he was recalled in September, Tejada fell one day short of reaching the number of days necessary to achieve three years in the Majors and the Mets made the move one day later than they did with their other Triple A players.

The implication that the Mets were sticking it to Tejada just because they could might have some merit. Tejada has done a masterful job of currying disfavor in the organization in spite of playing well in 2012 replacing Jose Reyes. General manager Sandy Alderson has never been shy in saying that he never felt the shortstop position was settled with Tejada and openly prefers to have players who can hit the ball out of the park at least once in a while. Tejada’s shortcomings at the plate could have been mitigated if he’d shown the slightest interest in doing as he was told. The Mets wanted him to come to camp early in 2012 to grow accustomed to working with a new second baseman Daniel Murphy. He didn’t. The club’s annoyance was somewhat assuaged when he batted .289 and played sound defense. After the season, they were still more than willing to include him as part of the package to try and get Justin Upton.

In 2013, he drew the club’s ire once again by showing up to camp slightly out of shape. Only this time, he didn’t make up for it by playing well. When he strained his right quadriceps on May 29 against the Yankees, he was batting .209 and had somehow managed to have a slugging percentage lower than his on-base percentage. He was also playing slipshod defense. The Mets were about to send him to the minors that week. The injury put Tejada on the disabled list until July 7 when they activated him and immediately sent him to Triple A.

While they blatantly kept him in the minors an extra day in September, the Mets argument could be that they were going to send him down before June 1 and probably weren’t going to recall him before September based on his play and, truthfully, that they wanted to send him a message that his spot in the lineup and big leagues is not assured.

This is not a Jordany Valdespin issue where he was angering the organization and teammates because of his behavior. Tejada angered the organization because he wasn’t doing what he was asked to do and was playing poorly. They were well within their rights to send him down and keep him down. In fact, they could make the argument that they were under no obligation to bring him back to the big leagues at all.




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Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

Books, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Much to the chagrin of Scott Boras teams are increasingly shying away from overpaying for players they believe are the “last” piece of the puzzle and doling out $200 million contracts. This realization spurred Boras’s reaction to the Mets, Astros and Cubs steering clear of big money players, many of whom are his clients.

Ten years ago, the Moneyball “way” was seen as how every team should go about running their organization; then the big money strategy reared its head when the Yankees spent their way back to a World Series title in 2009; and the Red Sox are now seen as the new method to revitalizing a floundering franchise. The fact is there is no specific template that must be followed to guarantee success. There have been teams that spent and won; there have been teams that have spent and lost. There have been teams that were lucky, smart or lucky and smart. Nothing guarantees anything unless the pieces are already in place.

The 2013 Red Sox had everything click all at once. They already had a solid foundation with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. They were presented with the gift of financial freedom when the Dodgers took the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez off their hands. Bobby Valentine’s disastrous season allowed general manager Ben Cherington to run the team essentially the way he wanted without interference from Larry Lucchino. John Farrell was the right manager for them.

To think that there wasn’t a significant amount of luck in what the Red Sox accomplished in 2013 is a fantasy. Where would they have been had they not lost both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and stumbled into Koji Uehara becoming a dominant closer? Could it have been foreseen that the Blue Jays would be such a disaster? That the Yankees would have the number of key injuries they had and not spend their way out of trouble?

The players on whom the Red Sox spent their money and who had success were circumstantial.

Mike Napoli agreed to a 3-year, $39 million contract before his degenerative hip became an issue and they got him for one season. He stayed healthy all year.

Shane Victorino was viewed as on the downside of his career and they made made a drastic move in what was interpreted as an overpay of three years and $39 million. He was able to produce while spending the vast portion of the second half unable to switch hit and batting right-handed exclusively.

Uehara was signed to be a set-up man and the Red Sox were reluctant to name him their closer even when they had no one left to do the job.

Jose Iglesias – who can’t hit – did hit well enough to put forth the impression that he could hit and they were able to turn him into Jake Peavy.

The injury-prone Stephen Drew stayed relatively healthy, played sound defense and hit with a little pop. The only reason the Red Sox got him on a one-year contract was because he wanted to replenish his value for free agency and he did.

Is there a team out there now who have that same confluence of events working for them to make copying the Red Sox a viable strategy? You’ll hear media members and talk show callers asking why their hometown team can’t do it like the Red Sox did. Are there the players out on the market who will take short-term contracts and have the issues – injuries, off-years, misplaced roles – that put them in the same category as the players the Red Sox signed?

Teams can try to copy the Red Sox and it won’t work. Just as the Red Sox succeeded because everything fell into place, the team that copies them might fail because things falling into place just right doesn’t happen very often. Following another club’s strategy makes sense if it’s able to be copied. What the Red Sox did isn’t, making it a mistake to try.




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