The Yankees’ Other Key Pending Free Agent

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Last night’s absurd 9-1 loss to the expansion-level Astros aside, the Yankees have surpassed the low-level expectations they were saddled with given their injuries to key players, lack of big name free agent signings and insistence that they’re going to get their payroll down to $189 million by 2014. At 15-10, the doom and gloom surrounding the club after the 1-4 start has subsided for the moment. That said, the age and number of injuries they’ve had will eventually catch up to them as the season moves along. If they’re still in position to be a factor by July, then it will be appropriate to laud the team’s resiliency and a playoff run.

What’s ignored in their good start is the steady hand that’s guided them through it, manager Joe Girardi. While the most prominent pending free agent the Yankees have is Robinson Cano, Girardi’s contract is also expiring at the end of the season and the team has been content to let him work in the final year with no rumors floated about a possible extension. Whether they’re willing to let the season play out and consider their options is known only to them, but unless they’re undertaking a full-blown rebuild—one that Girardi, with his resume, would not be interested in overseeing at this point in his career—then it makes no sense to run the risk of Girardi leaving.

For all the criticism he attracts for overusing his bullpen and overmanaging; for showing how clever he is with unnecessary in-game offensive decisions related to the near and dear to his heart “small ball” and doing “stuff” to make it look like he’s “managing” when just sitting there and letting the players play would be a better move, Girardi is now ensconced as the Yankees manager and those that are calling for his dismissal are complaining for its own sake.

He’s a good manager based on the following prime criteria, contingent on the situation, that a good manager needs to have:

  • The team achieves what it’s supposed to achieve

I don’t mean that the Yankees expectations are to win the World Series every year and if they don’t, the season is judged as a failure. That’s what wound up dooming Joe Torre. I mean that if a team like the Nationals, for example, doesn’t have any significant injuries and finishes at 85-77 and out of the playoffs, then that falls on manager Davey Johnson. Barring a clear screw-up, a manager shouldn’t be dumped based on playoff results.

  • The team overachieves

Girardi’s one season as Marlins manager resulted in the definition of a club that overachieved. In 2006, following a sell off the prior winter in which they dumped A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre, they were widely expected to lose over 100 games. Girardi won the Manager of the Year by keeping them in Wild Card contention and had them at .500 as late as September 16th before a 78-84 finish. He was fired by owner Jeffrey Loria in a fit of petulance. Not much has changed from then to now with Loria who’s on his fifth manager since Girardi.

  • There’s accountability from the top down

The worst thing a manager can do is to accept that there’s a “rebuilding” going and act as if it doesn’t matter what the game results are as long as the players “develop.” That doesn’t mean trying to win every single game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series at the expense of health and sanity, but it means that there won’t shrugging and disinterest if the losses begin to pile up.

Girardi has managed the Yankees for five-plus years and they’ve made the playoffs and won 95+ games in four of them. If they want to bring in someone else, whom are they going to hire to replace him? Is it that easy to find someone who can deal with the circus, handle the media, have respect in the clubhouse and win with a diminished and aging roster all at the same time? If they were still going to have a $200+ million payroll and toss money at all their issues, then they could find the prototypical “someone” to manage the team and be okay. That’s no longer the case. There’s rarely an answer as to who the fans/media might want as a the new manager. It’s just change for change’s sake. There are times when it’s necessary to make a change just because. This is not one of those times.

It must be remembered that had he not gotten the Royals job prior to Torre being let go, GM Brian Cashman was seriously interested in Trey Hillman. Hillman had an airtight resume, was impressive in both presence and tone and was a disaster in Kansas City. He was strategically inept and couldn’t deal with the scrutiny and media in Kansas City. One can only venture a guess as to how bad he would’ve been in New York. It’s not that simple to find a good manager, especially in New York.

If Torre was the dad/Godfather to all the players, then Girardi is the no-nonsense brother who took over the family business and is running it his way. Girardi has never gotten the credit he’s deserved for the seamless transition from Torre. He never tried to be Torre and in the first season at the helm, it caused some friction with the veterans who weren’t accustomed to the energy, detachment and lack of personal attention with a pat on the back here and a paternal embrace there that was a daily part of the Torre regime. He also missed the playoffs in his first year after Torre had made it in every one of his seasons running the show. He survived it.

The easy thing for him to do would’ve been to copy his former manager and mentor. Instead, Girardi took little bits and pieces from his former managers Don Zimmer, Tony LaRussa, Torre, and Don Baylor. Girardi is more of a “what you see is what you get” than Torre ever was. Torre was calculating and Machiavellian. In circumstances in which he’d had enough of certain players—such as when he batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in the 2006 ALDS loss to the Tigers—the old-school and occasionally vicious Torre came out. His close relationships with Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada among others were due in part to him nurturing them through their formative years and in part because he was a self-interested actor who knew he needed those players on his side if he was going to succeed and continue in his job with an owner always looking to fire the manager if his demands weren’t met. When Girardi took the job, there were the familiar sibling tensions, especially with Posada, that he had to navigate. Sometimes he did a better job than others. Now there’s a détente between Girardi, Jeter and the other remaining veterans, but there will never be the affection there was with Torre.

He’s earned the right to have his status defined. By all reason and logic, the Yankees are playing far better than should’ve been expected given the issues they face. Girardi is looking into the contractual unknown. Perhaps they’ve told him they’ll take care of him at the end of the year. Maybe they haven’t. They could be waiting to see what happens. In any case, it’s a mistake. A number of appetizing jobs might be open after this season including the Angels (that one might be open in a matter of days), Dodgers, Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals and Mariners. All of those teams would be interested in Girardi.

It’s doubtful that he leaves the Yankees, but while they’re concerned about Cano’s contract, they need to pay attention to Girardi’s as well because he’s done a good job and they need him to stay.

//

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Red Sox Return to a Strategy From 10 Years Ago

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After a last place finish and disastrous 2012 season, it’s a convenient storyline for the Red Sox to get back to their “roots” that built the annual title contender under Theo Epstein from 2003-2011. That the reality of this narrative isn’t precisely accurate is beside the point. They won. Because they won, the SparkNotes version of how it happened has degenerated into a brief and simplistic summary that using stats and undervalued attributes while also spending money was the “formula”.

Facts get in the way, so the facts are being eliminated in most Red Sox-centric circles.

I’m indifferent to allegiance and twisting truth to fit into what a constituency wants to hear, so here are those facts:

  • A large chunk of the Red Sox 2004 championship team was built by Dan Duquette
  • What Billy Beane had planned to do (according to Michael Lewis, so take it with a bucket of salt) had he followed through on his agreement to take over as the team’s GM after the 2002 season would’ve resulted in a horror movie
  • The Red Sox were somewhat dysfunctional during that whole time with the mad scientist closer-by committee experiment; Epstein eventually resigning and returning to win a power struggle with Larry Lucchino; and other examples of infighting
  • They were lucky with players like Mike Lowell, whom they were forced to take even though they didn’t want him
  • The 2007 club that won their second World Series in four years was the product of tossing money at their problems as a reaction to fan anger following their 2006 stumble
  • There were numerous other unquantifiable occurrences that were equally as important in the building of the brand as their adherence to new age statistics.

Rises of this nature tend to take on lives of their own and the Red Sox, who had turned to the new age techniques in part because their new ownership was intent on running the club as a business and in part because what they’d tried for so many years—keeping up with the Yankees and other clubs by doing the exact same things—had failed repeatedly. They made the switch to cold-blooded calculation out of necessity as much as design. What they were doing wasn’t working; what Beane was doing in Oakland was working, so they consciously mimicked the template and souped it up by hiring Bill James and backing up their newfound convictions with money.

Eventually though, after two championships, it wasn’t enough. There could no longer be the intelligent free agent signings stemming from their own analysis and volition, reactions and outsider perspective be damned; they had to compete with the Yankees and get the biggest names; a season in which the club finished with 95 wins and lost in the ALCS was not good enough anymore. In the World Series win or bust world, the Yankees had been joined by the Red Sox. It’s an almost impossible vacuum in which to function over the long-term. When operating under such self-administered constraints, teams tend to do things they might not otherwise do. The Red Sox were bounced in the 2008 playoffs by the low-budget Rays; the Angels took them out in 3 straight games in the 2009 ALDS; they were riddled by injuries in 2010, but still somehow won 89 games and missed the playoffs; and they spent wildly and absurdly in the winter of 2010-2011 to import more names whose suitability to Boston should have been known beforehand as players to avoid. Unlike acquisitions from the early days for the transformation when Johnny Damon and Curt Schilling could handle the madness surrounding the Red Sox, Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Adrian Gonzalez couldn’t.

Culminating in the overriding expectations and disaffected personalities that behaved as entitled and disinterested brats, the 2011 Red Sox undermined their manager Terry Francona, acted as if they were entitled to a playoff ticket simply due to their payroll and reputation, and collapsed. Trying to patch it together with one more run, the club took the shattered strategy to its logical conclusion by hiring a “name” manager to replace the discarded and exhausted Francona, Bobby Valentine. Epstein climbed the exit hatch to take over as President of the Chicago Cubs and the new GM, Ben Cherington, didn’t want Valentine. Lucchino overruled him, the coaching staff and factions in the front office passive aggressively set Valentine up to fail. Predictably Valentine’s reputation and personality resulted in a mid-season mutiny and exponential selfishness that dwarfed that which doomed Francona.

A 69-93 season, endless ridicule, and a livid fanbase spurred the Red Sox to get back to the drawing board and they’re in the process making a show of returning to what it was that sowed the seeds for their decade long dominance.

Amid all the ESPN headlines of expectancy for the 2013 comeback; with the money freed from the salary dumps of Crawford, Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett; the promises of a return to the past by hiring a link to that past as the new manager John Farrell, the signing of “character” players such as Jonny Gomes, David Ross, and the pursuit of Mike Napoli, it’s taking the tone of an on-paper back to basics of a strategy that is now behind the times.

When Epstein sought to remake the club in the statistical image, it was new and few clubs understood it, were willing to implement it, or knew what they were doing if they tried. Already in place was a megastar starting pitcher in Pedro Martinez and some young players in the organization such as Kevin Youkilis who would cheaply contribute to what they were putting together.

These factors are no longer the case. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a good place to start a rotation, but are not on a level with Martinez and there’s little backing them up; the bullpen is weak; the lineup is pockmarked with gaping holes. In 2012, when clubs scour the market for players, everyone has the same numbers and uses them. It’s not 2002. Clubs are taking the initiative by signing their young stars long term; the Red Sox farm system has been gutted by ill-thought out trades for “name” players. Players that had undervalued attributes like on-base percentage are not floating around for a pittance. When the Red Sox made the decision to dump Shea Hillenbrand in favor of a player who had been a journeyman, Bill Mueller, it was reasonable to wonder what they were doing. It was a stroke of genius as Mueller won the batting title, the Silver Slugger, and was a key component to the 2004 championship.

Is Gomes a Mueller? Is he going to develop into something other than what he’s been his whole career? How about other players they’re avidly pursuing like Napoli or Nick Swisher?

Yes, they’re good players and likable personalities who will help the Red Sox be better than what they were in 2011-2012 on and off the field. Unfortunately, that doesn’t eliminate the inherent problems of clinging to a bygone template to sell to the fans and media to put forth the pretense of getting back to fundamentals. The days of a player being different from his perception are over. Substance is required, but the substance is lacking as the Red Sox revert to the past.

Farrell is straight out of central casting as a manager. He’s well-spoken, handsome, big, intimidating, and the remaining players from his time as Francona’s pitching coach like him and lobbied for him. Everyone from the front office is onboard with his hiring and they’re giving him a freedom to hire coaches he wants and a voice in the construction of the roster that was not given to Valentine. That doesn’t alter the fact that no one from the Blue Jays has expressed regret that he’s gone; that the Blue Jays were one of the worst run clubs in baseball during his time and were atrocious in the most rudimentary aspects of the game to the point that had the Red Sox not wanted Farrell back so desperately the Blue Jays were probably going to fire him. Francona, for his faults, was a sound strategic manager who had managerial experience with the Phillies. But like the Francona Phillies, the new team Francona has been hired to manage, the Indians, doesn’t have very much talent and his mere presence isn’t going to change that or the end results on the field. The same thing applies to Farrell on a different scope tied to higher expectations. Farrell’s limited managerial experience and terrible results won’t be glossed over in Boston as they will for Francona is Cleveland because Francona knows what he’s doing and Farrell doesn’t.

The Red Sox of 2004-2010 would have won with Farrell as the manager because they were so talented that there was little for the manager to do other than write the lineup, make the pitching changes, deal with the media, and steer the ship—perfect for a figurehead. It also helped that the competition in the division was mostly limited to the Yankees and, for a couple of years, the Rays. Now, with the Red Sox lack of talent and stiff competition in the division, they can’t toss out their return to glory concept and expect to win because they’re all on the same page with the manager and they have a couple of gritty players added to the clubhouse. They need pitching; they need bats; they need guidance; and they need to be managed.

Napoli, Swisher, Gomes, Ross, and Farrell aren’t going to undo the dilapidation that was an end result of years of patchwork repairs reaching its nadir in 2012. The obvious thing is to blame Valentine and make the claim that the mistakes are now understood and won’t be repeated. It’s easy. It’s also inaccurate. Farrell’s back; James is more involved; everyone’s working toward the same goal. The Red Sox are upfront about operating from the 2002-2003 playbook in 2012-2013. Is that going to vault them from 69-93 to 90-72 or a similar win total that will put them in playoff contention in a bearish American League?

Do you see the problem there? Considering what they’re doing and how they’re marketing it, the Red Sox clearly don’t.

//

Role Reversals and Trade Deadlines Make Strange Bedfellows

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The “Mets-Phillies rivalry” isn’t so much a rivalry. It’s more two fanbases that dislike one another due to their close proximity. The teams were never in contention at the same time until 2007 and by then the Mets had the reputation as condescending and arrogant because of their 2006 and early-2007 dominance and the Phillies’ reputation as underachievers and authors of the greatest collapse in baseball history in 1964. Jimmy Rollins stoked the fire with his bluster early in 2007 and looked foolish as the Mets were strolling to a second straight division title; but Rollins backed it up with a blazing final month and by winning the MVP in the Phillies’ remarkable comeback that seized the momentum and sent the Mets into a spiral that culminated in the front office regime change and roster turnover.

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and became the dominant team in the NL with another pennant in 2009 followed by two more division titles in 2010-2011.

The tide has turned again.

This time it’s the Phillies who are reviled throughout baseball because of their smugness, penchant for trading and signing every big name on the market and “we’re better than you” mouthiness, much of it emanating from their fans. The Mets are the young upstarts expected to lose 90+ games (and in the ludicrous world of Michael Kay, 110 games) but find themselves in the thick of the pennant race and looking to buy players rather than sell.

So where does that leave them?

With each mounting loss and rising deficit in the playoff race, the Phillies’ decision to sell grows more and more likely. But would they trade anyone to the Mets?

The Mets are in need of a right-handed hitting bat who can play first base. They’re continually placing Justin Turner at the position against lefty pitchers instead of Ike Davis. Turner is not an experienced first baseman and is not meant to be in the lineup regularly; he’s a useful bat off the bench and can play second, third and a little shortstop. It’s not as easy to play first base as the Mike Francesas of the world will lead you to believe. That notion is a disproved theory from the 1950s that a player can be “hidden” at first base. The Mets cannot let an inexperienced defender cost them runs; that’s where they are if they insist on using Turner there.

With Ryan Howard activated, Ty Wigginton no longer has a regular place in the Phillies’ lineup. Wigginton hits well against lefties and enjoys hitting in Citi Field (1.278 OPS with 3 homers in 34 plate appearances). The Mets can use him. As the velocity of the Phillies plummet rises in new and enterprising ways like last night’s debacle against the Braves in which Antonio Bastardo entered a 0-0 tie in the 8th inning, proceeded to load the bases, walk in a run and serve up a grand slam to Brian McCann, it’s clear that there’s not going to be a turnaround for the Phillies when Roy Halladay returns or at any other time. They’re closer in the standings to the dregs—the Padres, Rockies, Cubs and Astros—than they are to a playoff spot.

This is pretty much it.

Sometimes teams that revile one another will acknowledge that concessions need to be made to do business. The Red Sox were going to trade Mike Lowell to the Rangers who, with the Red Sox knowledge, planned to send Lowell to the Yankees. It never came to pass but that style of plausible deniability is necessary in a true rivalry as fierce as that of Yankees-Red Sox.

Such is not the case with the Mets and Phillies.

The Mets can use Wigginton and the Phillies are coming apart at the seams. That’s a starting point for negotiation without partisan rancor and fan perception standing in the way.

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The Red Sox Come Apart

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How long ago it seems that Eric Ortiz of NESN wrote that ridiculous piece suggesting that the 2011 Red Sox were going to challenge the 1927 Yankees for the title of greatest team in history.

Not only was it was tempting fate at the time, but it’s absurd in retrospect.

Even with that, no one—even the most fervent and obnoxious Yankees fan with a mandate to knock their rivals down a peg—could have suggested that the Red Sox would stage the greatest collapse in the history of baseball and blow a playoff spot; that in rapid succession both their manager and general manager would be gone; and the team would be in utter turmoil during the playoffs and making headlines off the field instead of on.

But it happened.

The Red Sox blew that playoff spot with a humiliating fall that was stark in its creativity; they couldn’t pitch; couldn’t hit; and were fighting amongst themselves.

Manager Terry Francona—he of the two World Series wins and the skipper of the club for eight seasons—left before the team could make the decision not to exercise his contract options.

And the GM, Theo Epstein, has agreed to a 5-year contract to take over the Chicago Cubs.

At the very least, Eric Ortiz’s column was possible.

If what actually happened were presented by anyone as a prediction as to the outcome of the 2011 season for the Red Sox, they’d be treated as a deranged pariah with an intense and delusional loathing of the Red Sox.

But it’s real.

It happened.

The Red Sox have to endure the firestorm of angry fans; circling vultures in the media while finding a new GM and a new manager; they have to clear out the clubhouse of those that were divisive, destructive, disinterested in team harmony and simply cannot play anymore.

The Red Sox became a mirror image of what they was supposed to be.

The dysfunction was horrific. The backbiting and self-preservation began during the collapse and multiplied when the season ended; it’s gotten worse as Francona’s reputation is being besmirched publicly by those who chose to take the lowest of the low road by accusing him of overusing pain medication and that his divorce influenced what was seen to be an absence of focus that permeated the club.

This is nothing new. When a manager leaves of his own accord or there’s a mutual and “friendly” split, the underlying acrimony bubbles to the surface as the participants seek to have their own version of events as the prevailing history whether it’s true or not.

Joe Torre had to endure the vindictive and petty savagery of Michael Kay as the unsaid mouthpiece of the Yankees organization.

Dusty Baker had his financial laundry aired by the Giants after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement after a season in which the Giants won their first pennant in 13 years.

Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland—all had breakups that were supposed to be clean but wound up as referendums on them as human beings and not as baseball men.

The off-field Francona stories are his business and no one else’s; for some angry person to be relating them as fact to the media is, at best, inappropriate; at worst, it’s despicable.

With Epstein, before judging him for leaving, put yourself in his position.

He’s 37-years-old; is working in his hometown for the team he rooted for as a kid and brought them something they hadn’t achieved—a World Series win—since 1918.

This was his life. And that was the problem.

It must’ve been claustrophobic to have his dream job and be entrenched and expected to remain there forever (and ever…and ever…and ever) like some tortured ghost at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Neither he nor Francona appeared to be having fun anymore. When there’s no joy in winning and criticism, second guessing plus misery in losing, what’s the point of staying?

In the intervening years since the last Red Sox championship in 2007, the returns on Epstein’s work had become narrower and narrower. No longer was it good enough to make the playoffs; no longer was an ALCS appearance considered a successful season. Now, he had to: A) beat the Yankees; B) make the playoffs; C) win the World Series; D) acquire players to make the team the favorites to win the World Series next year.

For both Francona and Epstein, it had become a case of diminishing returns. They’re not blameless here; it’s entirely fair for ownership to look at the manager/GM and say perhaps it’s time for some new voices and fresh eyes to make the necessary alterations to try and fix this mess. There’s a lot to clean up. But the ancillary issues were factors not only in the departures of both men, but in the team fracturing in the first place.

It was circular. They won; they were expected to win again; they didn’t have the luxury of acceptable and necessary valleys to reach the peaks; they spent more and more on players who were available and might not have been perfect fits for the clubhouse or the town; they didn’t mesh; panic set in during times of trouble; and their world came apart under adversity.

As much as the Yankees are despised in Boston; as George Steinbrenner was reviled for his win at all costs attitude, the Red Sox have morphed into that which they hated most.

To maintain control, there have to be changes—painful changes that aren’t easy to explain through stats, spin-doctoring or self-indulgent justifications. Epstein was there for 9 years; Francona for 8. Most of the same players have been in the clubhouse for chunks of that time.

Bill James can formulate all the numbers he wants as a credit-taking exercise or self-absolving “reason” why they did one thing and didn’t do another, but that’s not going to placate the masses who want to know why.

Why did this team collapse?

Why is Francona gone and now treated as if he was lucky to have been employed in the first place?

Why did Epstein jump ship rather than repair it?

Maybe it was time for fresh blood, but it didn’t have to be drained so brutally from the prior regime at feeding hour.

Nearly a decade is too long for any group to stay together in a boss-employee relationship and repeat success. They became complacent, lazy and entitled. In order to freshen up the circumstances, drastic maneuvers have to be made. Either the core of the players has to be adjusted or the people running the show do. Static is untenable; it fails time and time again and is something the Red Sox missed when they continually brought back Jason Varitek when he could no longer play; when his reputation as the “leader” with that “C” on his jersey trumped what was one of the smart, ruthless baseball decisions they made when they traded Nomar Garciaparra and let Pedro Martinez leave. Why was Tim Wakefield still on the roster? How much clubhouse lawyering were they going to take from Kevin Youkilis?

They needed to tell some of these players to move on, but didn’t.

Is it any surprise that individuals were behaving as if they could do whatever they wanted to do in the clubhouse and in the dugout?

What were the consequences?

Francona, a players manager, couldn’t start disciplining the veterans out of the blue; nor could he rely on the likes of Varitek to police the clubhouse any longer.

It wasn’t working.

The payrolls increased; the need for star players at every position led to the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and signing of Carl Crawford; they spent on a player from Texas who’d spent his career in California and wasn’t ready for the Boston fishbowl in John Lackey; the lavish amounts of cash spent to fill the prominent holes in the bullpen created an atmosphere of unfamiliarity and sabotaged the team dynamic so they didn’t like each other, didn’t care about one another and behaved as if their statistics would carry them through.

Even the 2007 team, which had mercenaries of its own in J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo; self-interested loudmouths like Curt Schilling; bullies like Josh Beckett had others who kept the peace. A still relevant Varitek, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell didn’t take any nonsense from the diverse egos. The clubhouse still housed people who would go through a wall to win a game and protect their teammates; they wore the BOS-TON emblazoned across the front of their road jerseys with a pride that made them part of the fabric of the city and not just a player who worked there because they offered him the most money.

Where was the galvanizing force with the 2011 Red Sox?

There wasn’t one.

It was glossed over while the team was playing brilliantly throughout the summer and had they been able to win 2 more games at some point, none of this might have happened.

But it did.

Factional disputes and rampant disinterest grew more prevalent as things went poorly and Francona, despite his best efforts, couldn’t pull it together. On and off-field camaraderie with this Red Sox club wasn’t there. Independent of personalities, the team—on paper—should’ve been nearly as good as Eric Ortiz suggested. In practice, it was an arrogant and unlikable crew who thought they could throw their gloves on the field and saunter into the playoffs as a matter of divine right.

For all their reliance on numbers, the Red Sox had been a team of cohesion with a series of people that fit together. They succeeded on paper and in practice. If this season were played on a computer, these Red Sox were a sure bet for the World Series.

But it’s not played on a computer.

Good teams who have the group interests in mind close ranks when challenged. This club folded completely and started looking for people to blame so they wouldn’t have to take responsibility themselves.

Francona left before he could be dumped.

Rather than deal with a fallout that’s going to be worse before it gets better and be the man responsible for the decisions that will have to be made, Epstein took off for the exit as well.

There’s a big mess to clean up for whomever takes over as GM; for the manager who has to walk into that clubhouse and end the madness that was a large part of their undoing in 2011.

It was supposed to be a memorable year for the Red Sox.

And it was.

But it’s not memorable for a parade celebrating a championship.

It’s memorable because the tandem that led them to those glories left within two weeks of one another.

There’s a lot to repair. Odds are it’s going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

The wheels have come off. And there’s no going back now.

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This Is Not About Theo Epstein (That Comes Later)

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Panic abounds in Boston as the prospect of a trifecta of organizational dysfunction beckons. Following the humiliating collapse and requisite sniping, backbiting and blaming one another has come the departures of the two men who were out front of the Red Sox revival, manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein.

Never mind the fact that many managers could have and would have won with that roster full of talent; ignore that there are GM candidates everywhere and no one is irreplaceable, it’s a triple shot of torment to an organization that had grown so used to success that they’ve forgotten how expectantly painful it was to be a Red Sox fan.

Here are the facts with Epstein and the Red Sox: they were gutsy; they were lucky; they filled the front office with smart people; and they won.

Will Epstein have the same success with the Cubs?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Do you know how the Red Sox managed to draft Clay Buchholz? Dodgers scouting guru Logan White wanted to draft Buchholz, but was overruled by Paul DePodesta who wanted Luke Hochevar.

The Dodgers drafted Hochevar…and failed to sign him.

So the Red Sox got Buchholz.

They were lucky with David Ortiz, whom they signed as an “oh him” guy.

They were lucky that no one ever took them up on the multiple times they tried to dump Manny Ramirez.

They were lucky that the exalted genius Billy Beane turned down the offer to be GM after initially accepting. (Be funny if they hired him now!)

They were smart in ignoring conventional wisdom—Moneyball and otherwise—and wound up with the likes of Dustin Pedroia.

The key for the Red Sox was the utter ruthlessness with which they dispatched players who either wanted too much money or too many years as free agents or were no longer performing and were traded.

The dealing of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 was an act of heresy; without it, they likely would not have won the World Series that year.

There never would have been a trade for Josh Beckett had Epstein not resigned in a power-grabbing snit after 2005; and with that trade came the MVP of the 2007 World Series, Mike Lowell—whom they were forced to take!

Letting Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay leave turned out to be prescient decisions that didn’t work out well for the players in any aspect aside from their pockets and has ended positively for the Red Sox.

The era of the rock star GM has created this concept of the all-seeing, all-knowing expert at the top of the pyramid. It’s nice, neat, salable and a load of garbage.

People don’t want the truth that Epstein was hired as a face of the franchise in part because Larry Lucchino didn’t want to do the GM grunt work. But the puppet started tearing at his strings quickly as his reputation grew and the struggle became an uneasy truce.

The Red Sox will get someone else if Epstein leaves. Presumably it will be someone intelligent and willing to listen to others—something that perhaps Epstein no longer wants to do.

It could be an inspired maneuver like the Rays decision to hand control over to Andrew Friedman; or it might be as disastrous as the Jack (Amazin’ Exec) Zduriencik tenure as Mariners GM.

Who deserves the credit or blame? The person who wrote the song? The guy who sang it? The producer? The background musicians or the promoters? Is it a combination?

Without Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle, there’s no appellation of “old school baseball genius” for Pat Gillick with the Phillies.

Without Bobby Cox laying the foundation for the Braves of the 1990s, John Schuerholz is not heading for the Hall of Fame.

Without Gene Michael, there’s no Brian Cashman.

The line between genius and idiot is narrow and has little to do with the individual, but chance, circumstance, courage and support.

It could be terrible decision for Epstein to leave. Or it could be one for him to stay. But it can’t be judged now.

And life will go on.

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Billy Beane And The Cubs Are A Match Made In _________

All Star Game, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

It’s a match made in blank because we don’t know.

How will a Billy Beane with money at his disposal function differently than the Billy Beane with creative non-fiction bolstering everything he does as the touch of a deity?

We’ll see.

Everyone is on the same playing field now and with clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets using some semblance of the stat-based techniques in building their franchises, Beane’s not doing something different with obscure numbers that few are even aware of anymore.

What he was doing with the Athletics wasn’t the work of a genius, but the filling of a gap and utilization of weapons that hadn’t been widely discovered or implemented yet.

It’s opportunistic and smart, but hardly the work of a “genius”.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened had Beane followed through on his agreement to take over as the GM of the Red Sox after the 2002 season. What we do know is that the moves he had planned would’ve been retrospectively disastrous.

Under Beane’s Red Sox regime, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek were all part of an alternate universe in Red Sox history—a universe that Red Sox fans are undoubtedly pleased is embedded in a reality that can’t be found in Moneyball—in print or on screen.

Could it have worked with the blueprint Beane had in mind for the Red Sox?

Possibly.

But given the notorious impatience of Red Sox fans and the expectations accompanying Beane’s arrival, griping from the media and fans would’ve started immediately. Add in that the team had yet to break the “curse” and it was a recipe for disaster.

Even in a storybook sense, it’s difficult to imagine that Beane’s Red Sox could’ve been more successful than that which has been built under John Henry with Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein calling the shots.

Much of what happens is determined by luck and timing. Had Epstein not resigned in his gorilla-suit encased snit after the 2005 season, the Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell acquisitions wouldn’t have taken place. Would they have been better with Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez? Again, possibly. But no Lowell and Beckett make a repeat plot of the 2007 championship impossible. And the only reason they took Lowell was because the Marlins forced them to take his contract to get Beckett. Lowell was a key player in 2007.

The groundwork for Billy Beane’s departure from the Athletics is being laid as we speak.

The combination of next months’s release of the movie version of Moneyball; the way the Athletics have crumbled to an embarrassing irrelevance as anything other than a running gag verifying the absurdity of Beane’s supposed “genius”; the gridlocked stadium situation; that owner Lew Wolff has said he wouldn’t stop Beane from leaving; and the old “those close to Beane saying he’s frustrated” sham being planted in the media, all adds up to an exit strategy and golden parachute for a stagnated boss.

There was a suggestion that the Dodgers might be a viable situation for Beane. I don’t see that happening. They’ve been there, done that with Paul DePodesta and it didn’t work. Why do it again? If Ned Colletti leaves and MLB and the McCourts are still wrestling for control of the club, Kim Ng is a perfect choice. Her hiring gives positive public relations to all involved; she seems to know what she’s doing; she’s working for MLB now; was in Los Angeles before as Colletti’s assistant; and she’s agreeable to both sides.

Forget Beane in LA. We’re about to see his Hollywood foray and it’s about as realistic as the cooking school in Tuscany attended by all chefs at Olive Garden. In other words, it doesn’t exist. Beane’s movie fantasy has him being played by Brad Pitt and there will not be a sequel unless the real Beane turns a bigger trick than making everyone think he’s a genius in a setting vastly different than the one in the first story.

If Beane jumps ship, he’s landing on the North Side of Chicago to take over the Cubs.

And it’s going to happen.

Remember you read it here that Beane is going to be the next Cubs GM.

Maybe it’ll have a better ending than spin-doctoring and excuses to justify a farce.

But it is the Cubs after all. They’re sort of the Tropic Thunder of the baseball world.

Keep that in mind before thinking Beane’s walking in to save the day.

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80 Is Not The New 72

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

I don’t care if the man has the diet of Jay “The Juiceman” Kordich; the exercise regimen of the late Jack LaLanne; and the vitamin routine of Dr. Bob Delmonteque, 80 is too old to be managing a major league baseball team in today’s game.

Not only is it the travel, but it’s the players of today; the scrutiny; the round-the-clock news cycle; the self-proclaimed experts and would-be comedians waiting for the first slip-up to turn it into a running gag that only ends when something else—funnier—pops up.

Jack McKeon has been hired as the interim manager of the Florida Marlins replacing Edwin Rodriguez after Rodriguez resigned yesterday morning. McKeon is 80 and will be 81 in November.

He was at the helm of the Marlins in 2003 when, after the firing of Jeff Torborg, the club went on a 75-49 run; won the Wild Card; came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS against the Cubs; and stunned the favored Yankees in the World Series.

Perhaps Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is hoping for the same magic; maybe he wants someone he trusts in the clubhouse to assess and observe before deciding who’s going to take over permanently (or for whatever qualifies as permanently with the Marlins) as they begin play in their new ballpark; or maybe they’re doing it for some attention since the team is playing terribly and last in the big leagues in attendance.

Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake.

This isn’t based on age-discrimination; it’s based on reality.

The Marlins are a spiraling team loaded with young talent. Unless McKeon relies heavily on his coaches to keep an eye on discipline issues and that proper comportment is adhered to, this has the potential to become a story of “kids run wild on the old man’s watch”.

Comparing the 2003 team to the 2011 team is ludicrous.

The 2003 team had veterans who were able to police the clubhouse and make sure no one tried to take advantage of any lapse that befell McKeon due to age. Sturdy clubhouse personalities like Mike Lowell, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Pierre and Alex Gonzalez were in the room back them.

Who’s in the room now to take charge?

John Buck? Wes Helms? Randy Choate? Do they have the cachet to tell a bunch of insolent youngsters that they’d better listen to McKeon or else?

Or else what?

Logan Morrison doesn’t appear all that interested in taking the advice of authority figures and Hanley Ramirez is a whiny, petulant baby when he doesn’t get his way.

The circumstances in the standings from 2003 to 2011 are similar, but the underlying issues are vastly different.

Ill-informed comparisons have been made to the oldest manager in the history of baseball, Connie Mack. Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics until he was 87-years-old because he owned the team. By the time he was in his mid-80s, Mack was no longer making the game decisions. Still clad in his suit and tie with the shock of white hair,  he made frequent strategic mistakes and called out the names of players who hadn’t been members of the team for 10 years; third base coach Al Simmons would make the right calls as if he didn’t get Mack’s signals or hear him.

I’m not suggesting that McKeon is in that condition, but any malaprop or egregious error won’t be chalked up to being a stupid manager—which McKeon certainly is not—but to his advanced age.

This season is not lost for the Marlins. It’s June and they’re 7 games out for the Wild Card lead. They can make a run back into contention. Josh Johnson is expected back after the All-Star break and Ramirez is eventually going to start playing like himself. They have star-level talent that can blossom at any moment. But they need discipline and a manager who they’re not going to mess around with.

Someone like Bobby Valentine.

Instead, Loria reached to an old-hand in Jack McKeon.

That hand has legitimate Hall of Fame credentials and a championship ring with the Marlins organization that they wouldn’t have won without him.

But the hand is too old to be effective in 2011 and it runs the risk of a potentially embarrassing end to a great career.

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