Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

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Finding Reason with the Red Sox

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The Red Sox have seemed discombobulated since September and that didn’t change once the statuses of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein were resolved.

(If you were in hibernation, they both left.)

There’s an air of dysfunction remaining as the continuity of maneuvers that was there under Epstein is gone.

Who’s in charge?

Is it new GM Ben Cherington?

Is it CEO Larry Lucchino?

How much say is new manager Bobby Valentine having in the team construction?

Does anyone know?

Epstein deserves a large portion of the blame for the way the team came apart in 2011. Going back as far as 2007, Epstein was purchasing products to impress his neighbors rather than adhering to a plan of attack. It worked in 2007 as they won the World Series, but in subsequent years it became a case of diminishing returns. They literally and figuratively got fat with a bloated payroll and disinterested demeanor.

Regardless of how you view Epstein’s tenure with the Red Sox—whether you think he received too much credit as a media creation backed up by money or was a true front office visionary—there was no question of who was in charge. Following his tantrum-fueled resignation after the 2005 season and eventual return, he won the power struggle with Lucchino.

It was Theo’s team.

Once Epstein left, Lucchino wasted no time in asserting himself with Cherington and whispering in the ear of owner John Henry.

The simplest question as to whom is truly running things was answered when Valentine was hired as manager.

Ask yourself this: Had Epstein stayed, would the Red Sox have hired Valentine?

No.

Cherington was Epstein’s protégé and he would’ve wanted to hire a manager who had less personality, a closed mouth and did what he was told by upper management.

That’s not Valentine.

The latest maneuver the Red Sox made is under scrutiny as they traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen.

This is a clear salary dump and the speculation has centered around freeing up money to sign Roy Oswalt and fill a glaring need in the starting rotation.

You may ask, why would a team like the Red Sox, with a $160 million+ payroll, be worried about the relative pittance that Scutaro is making in 2012, $6 million?

It’s clear by now that the vault is closed. Partially due to the new luxury tax rules that are coming into effect and partially due to the failures of the high-priced signings made by Epstein—Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks—they’re not going to toss more money into the air to fix it anymore.

It comes down to this: they have enough offense to cover for a lighter-hitting shortstop than Scutaro and can get by with a combination of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto as long as they’re not utterly inept with the glove and bat. They need an arm and needed to clear some cash to get it, so they dumped Scutaro.

Some have suggested that they might shut their eyes and play rookie Jose Iglesias for his glove. I can tell you right now that Valentine is not going to play an untested rookie shortstop while he’s under the mandate to win and working under a 2-year contract.

It’s going to be the veterans Aviles and Punto and the Red Sox are going to make a move on a pitcher.

Would Epstein have done this?

It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Because he’s gone.

But that’s not the problem.

There biggest issue with Epstein’s departure isn’t that he’s irreplaceable; it’s that no one seems to know who’s in charge.

And it doesn’t appear as if the Red Sox know either.

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Mets Sign Ronny Cedeno and the Michael Kay Scale of Idiocy Shatters

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How many teams have a backup infielder that could be considered “good”?

I’m not talking about a super-utility type who plays semi-regularly and could play every day in one particular spot if needed.

Mark DeRosa of a few years ago fits into that category; Tony Phillips of years ago (under Sandy Alderson with the Athletics) was one; Mike Aviles of the Red Sox qualifies now.

But the Mets sign Ronny Cedeno as a backup middle infielder and the universe is being sucked into a black hole of Madoff-like proportions.

This Mets bashing is self-indulgent, random and is mistakenly equating the financial issues to player moves. They’re separate entities.

Is Cedeno a “good” player?

No.

He’s a backup middle-infielder and defensive replacement for Daniel Murphy at second base.

The Yankees and their fans are openly pining for the return of Eric Chavez to be the backup third baseman, yet Chavez wasn’t much more productive at the plate than Cedeno was in 2011.

Is it because one is a former All Star and recognizable name? Is it because he’s considered handsome?

Chavez played in 58 games; he batted .263 with a .320 on base percentage and .363 slugging percentage. In 175 plate appearances, he had 10 extra base hits and 2 homers. The Yankees paid $1.5 million for that and his scheduled trip to the disabled list.

The fans want him back.

Why?

He did nothing for them in 2011. Nothing.

Teams that are considered “powerhouses” for 2012 have the following backup middle infielders:

Phillies: Wilson Valdez

Yankees: Eduardo Nunez

Red Sox: Aviles

Rangers: Michael Young

Angels: Maicer Izturis

Brewers: Cesar Izturis

Young is DHing and playing some first base and is an All Star caliber player. Maicer Izturis can play every day if necessary as well. The others are players you can find cheaply and on someone’s Triple A roster; or in Mexico; or the Independent Leagues.

The Braves don’t even know who their starting shortstop is and have done absolutely nothing this winter. (Nor have the Yankees, come to think of it.)

But is the Mets decision to sign Cedeno worthy of the laughter and linking to finances as if they’re scanning the crowds for someone who’ll look good in a uniform and can stand at shortstop so they’re not fielding eight players?

Of course the financial woes are contributing to the lack of spending, but to say that because the team is in financial disarray that it’s going to extend to the field with the players they already have is an attempt to find reasons to castigate the franchise. Because the signing of Cedeno and the decision to hire a perceived “bankruptcy specialist” CRG Partners were so closely aligned in time, there’s an “obvious” connection between the two.

Except it’s only obvious if it’s made obvious.

It’s a logical fallacy.

Does Michael Kay really believe that the Mets are going to lose 110 games?

Even on the Michael Kay Scale of Idiocy, it’s stretching it. But not far enough to say it’s impossible that he does believe it.

Statistically and practically, it’s almost impossible for a team to lose that many games no matter which players they’re putting on the field; and with the Mets, they have talent on the roster. If they were in the Central Divisions of both the American and National Leagues, they could hang around contention.

They’re not.

They’re in the National League East.

But 110 losses? The Astros of 2011 were one of the worst teams I’ve ever seen and they won 56 games. The 2012 Mets are worse than the 2011 Astros?

If the Mets have a terrible year or a better-than-expected year, it won’t have anything to do with Ronny Cedeno; his signing has nothing to do with finances either. So why, other than an agenda, is it being treated as such?

I’m going to be adding a Fantasy Baseball page this season. If you can write and know Fantasy, contact me at the top of the page. I’m still looking to accumulate candidates. It’s unpaid, but people will read your stuff.

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