New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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Carlos Zambrano: Pros and Cons

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If Carlos Zambrano behaved in society the way he has in clubhouses and on the field, it wouldn’t be a matter of “pros and cons” as much as it would be “prosecutions and convictions”.

But he’s a baseball player and his behaviors have occurred in the setting of baseball—a world that is mostly removed from reality.

If the Marlins continue the trend of setting explosive devices in their clubhouse and decide to invite Milton Bradley to spring training, the city of Miami needs to be evacuated and those who refuse to evacuate should arm themselves and have a plan of escape.

A combustible mix that already has an unhappy Hanley Ramirez; the loudmouthed Heath Bell; a manager bordering on the edge of lunacy, Ozzie Guillen; along with front office led by an overbearing team president, David Samson and a temperamental and demanding owner Jeffrey Loria has added a new ingredient, Zambrano.

Naturally things could go completely wrong for the Marlins from top-to-bottom, but there are many positive possibilities to Zambrano that make it worthwhile for them to gamble on him.

They’re getting significant financial relief from the Cubs who are paying $15.5 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary for 2012; Zambrano waived his 2013 option that was worth $19.25 million. He’ll be free of Chicago, the reputation he created himself and the constant scrutiny; the Marlins are getting a pitcher who will be on his best behavior not just because he’s pitching for his friend Guillen, but because he’s singing for his free agent supper.

If you add in Chris Volstad—going to the Cubs in the trade—the Marlins payroll isn’t increasing much, if at all. Volstad is eligible for arbitration for the first time. If you figure his salary is going to increase from $445,000 to, say $1.4 million, the Marlins are taking on $1.1 million with Zambrano and getting, potentially, a top of the rotation starter.

That’s the key word: potentially.

The list of negatives with Zambrano is long. In my experience, players who’ve caused problems in one place are going to cause problems in another place. Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Albert Belle, Carl Everett, Shea Hillenbrand plus the aforementioned and in a category unto himself, Bradley, have all been magnets for trouble in spite of press conference glad handing, gleaming smiles and pledges to be different.

It comes down to whether the aggravation quotient will be worth it.

With Zambrano, we’re not seeing a decline in performance to accompany the bad attitude. He pitched well when he pitched. The absence of a heavy workload (he hasn’t thrown over 200 innings since 2007 and it wasn’t solely due to injury) might actually help him over the long term. His arm should be fresh.

The Marlins are trying to win and draw fans to their new park; let’s say that Zambrano and Volstad pitch similarly in 2012—it was still worth it. Fans are not going to the park specifically to see Chris Volstad; they will go to the park to see Carlos Zambrano, and even if it’s to watch a potential explosion, so what? Fans in the seats are fans in the seats.

Could the Cubs have brought Zambrano back to the team? They could’ve, but the reward was minuscule in comparison to the risk. If Zambrano returned, behaved and pitched well, the Cubs are fringe contenders at best. Those are huge “ifs”. Volstad is a talented pitcher who’s far cheaper and under team control for the foreseeable future.

Cubs new president Theo Epstein is going to build his team on character and known on-field qualities; Zambrano isn’t and would never be a fit. They were going to have to pay him anyway and the possibility of a career/personal behavioral turnaround was so remote that it was better to pay Zambrano off to leave and get something for him.

This trade is sensible for both sides. The Cubs get some peace and the Marlins get a big name in Big Z.

It’s a good trade.

Just have your disaster kit ready if the atom splits because that Marlins clubhouse is a ticking time bomb that could blow at any moment.

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When A Positive Becomes A Negative

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With the Mariners having lost an obscene 15 games in a row and beginning a series with the Yankees tonight, their rebuilding project has hit another sticking point.

They were at .500 when this streak started and GM Jack Zduriencik was looking to buy rather than sell.

That’s long gone.

What happens with Zduriencik remains to be seen. He was clearly on thin ice last season not because of the 100-losses, but because of the haphazard and, at best, dysfunctional way in which the team was run.

The excuses for what was there when Zduriencik arrived are all well and good: “The farm system was barren”; “The team was terrible”; “There were bloated contracts and a lack of analytics”; etc.

Fair.

Accurate.

But this team is an embarrassment. Most of the current club’s future were in place before Zduriencik was hired. Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero were in the organization.

We don’t know how the drafts under Zduriencik have gone. Dustin Ackley is going to be a star. But we won’t know how well or poorly they did in their selections and other amateur acquisitions for quite awhile.

And the big league team he’s put together is atrocious.

Is Justin Smoak the player he was earlier in the season or is he the slumping youngster he is now? He’s hit at every level, so he’s going to eventually hit in the big leagues. But what else has Zduriencik done to distinguish himself as anything more than misplaced hype based on an agenda?

Zduriencik has brought in Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Milton Bradley and Ian Snell—none of whom worked out and many have been utter disasters. He’s done a lot of things that have made no sense like trading for Russell Branyan at mid-season 2010 after letting him leave as a free agent the previous winter and surrendering a youngster who looks like he can play, Ezequiel Carrera, to do it.

Yes, he got Brandon League who was an All Star in 2011, but he traded Brandon Morrow to do it.

He did Morrow a favor by trading him after the unfulfilled promise with the Mariners and that he was never going to get past having been drafted before Tim Lincecum, but it’s a recurring nightmare that for every decision that’s worked, five haven’t.

Everything—the shady trading practices; inexplicable and backwards statements; indecision as to what they are and where they’re headed; sacrificial blame games that were perpetrated on former manager Don Wakamatsu—all adds up to the albatross of heightened expectations.

The combination of his reputation as a scout with an understanding and adherence to advanced stats, the gambler’s mentality in making drastic moves like trading J.J. Putz to the Mets and getting Cliff Lee from the Phillies and that the team radically overachieved in his first season without Zduriencik having done anything significant to improve the team led to the belief that things were getting better faster than they were; faster than they should’ve.

If the Mariners had it to do over again, I’m sure they would quietly admit that they’d have been better off having a 71-91 year in 2009 rather than 85-77. No one would’ve been surprised and the desperation to win immediately would’ve been lessened.

They would’ve had the opportunity to grow organically without the crafted narrative surrounding a non-existent, stat-based revolution the type we’re seeing come crashing to the ground with Moneyball and the Athletics train wreck along with the requisite excuses for the failures that are becoming more and more ludicrous.

A few days ago, I wrote that considering everything that happened with the Mariners in 2010, 2011’s positives couldn’t be ignored despite this horrific run.

That’s still true.

But I’m looking at things from a perch of indifference. I couldn’t care less what Zduriencik’s beliefs in building a club are and I’m not desperate to have my theories proven as “right”. I’m seeing things as they were and as they are. He wasn’t a “genius” nor an “Amazin’ Exec” when he took over and he’s not that now. Nor is he a fool.

But the fans are undoubtedly exhausted by all that’s gone south for the Mariners since that 85-win season. The reputation was media-created, but no one wants to hear that as they’re setting franchise records for losing streaks.

Patience may be wearing thin in Seattle with the regime. And given the work they’ve done—work that is documented and found to be wanting on and off the field—it’s easy to understand why.

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Not Feelin’ Badly For Milton Bradley

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Go elsewhere for sympathy/explanations for whatever consumes Milton Bradley; for that which has sabotaged his career.

I don’t care.

Bradley was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners yesterday ending the latest (and probably last, at least on the field) chapter in the tale of a good player who ruined any and all opportunities he received.

Because of his talent, his anger issues and frequent run-ins with, well, everyone were accepted as a part of doing business with Bradley. Now that he doesn’t perform on the field and is a raving lunatic, no one’s going to touch him. I don’t even think he’s redeemable at this point.

There have been players with problems who’ve gotten one chance after another. Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry and Gary Sheffield come to mind. Howe could still pitch no matter how much he abused himself and was never seen as a clubhouse problem to anyone but himself; Strawberry always put forth the image of a well-meaning, affable person with an inability to keep from destroying himself; Sheffield was well-liked by teammates and his paranoid rants obscured legitimate gripes for which others would’ve been taken at their word.

Every venue for Bradley—except his one season in Texas—has ended in a bitter departure.

If there was one incident; two incidents; three incidents—with explanations—then perhaps there would be justification for Bradley’s antics.

There aren’t.

If he could still play, the Mariners wouldn’t have dumped him. They traded for him because they needed a bat and wanted to dispatch a bad contract of their own in Carlos Silva; they found a match with the Cubs.

The Mariners tolerated Bradley far longer than I would have and GM Jack Zduriencik expressed the reality with perfect succinctness in this sentence:  “The situation with Milton is that we determined he’s not part of our future and not part of our present.”

Bradley’s on-field downfall aside, his reputation is one of his own design. I’m sure some of those saying they hope Bradley gets his life together are sincere; some aren’t. But I doubt any will be staying up nights worrying about Bradley and whether he’s doing something about whatever drives him to these acts of self-destruction.

He’ll find something to do with himself: Dancing with the Stars; WWE heel; Donald Trump running mate.

Something.

You’ll notice however that none of the above have anything to do with playing baseball for a big league club.

That part of his life is likely over.

His abilities have caught up to his issues on a downward scale.

And that’s a lethal combination for his career.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Viewer Mail 4.25.2011

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Mike Luna in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Dodgers being moved back to New York:

Oh, no, there’s no shot of this happening. Riper’s logic seems to be that the Mets are a fake New York team and the Brooklyn Dodgers never should have left anyway. Somehow moving one and destroying the other would make everyone (30 or so very old Brooklyn fans) happy.

Never mind that the LA Dodgers have plenty more fans than their Brooklyn counterpart.

These sorts of articles always rub me the wrong way, as they tend to make assumptions like that everyone in NY is a Yankees fan anyway and no one would miss the Mets.

Maybe we should move all of the old teams back to where they started. The A’s could move to KC and then Philly. The Rangers & Twins to DC. The Brewers to Seattle. LA & SF back to NY. Nationals to Montreal. The Yankees to Baltimore.

Mike is referring to this piece in Forbes by Tom Riper suggesting the Dodgers be moved back to Brooklyn.

It’s hard to tell if Riper is serious about this, but if he is, it’s absurd. The Dodgers still draw 3 million fans; the Mets are an institution (insert joke here) by now; and this is a half-fantasy disguised as a solution.

On another note, I’m all in favor of the Yankees going back to Baltimore. I’ll help them pack if they agree to transport a large chunk of their fan base, Mike Francesa and Michael Kay.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Felix Hernandez:

I’d like to see Felix get dealt, even if it is to the Yankees. It pains me to see his efforts squandered with no supporting cast. He looks like he could use a hug.

His efforts being squandered is an important point; plus he’s signed through 2014 and trading him could yield the foundation to rebuild the Mariners faster than they might if they keep him.

The two biggest factors are: Will he ask out because he’s tired of the losing and wasted effort? And who’s making the call for the Mariners?

VB27 writes RE the Mariners:

Joba Chamberlain has very little value. The Mariners could do a lot better than than “Joba Chamberlain; Brett Gardner; Jesus Montero; either Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances” if they decided to put King Felix on the market. And there is really no reason for them to do so for AT LEAST the next year and a half. He is the only real draw they have and Seattle can afford to pay him. Plus, with Smoak looking like he’ll stick at first for a long while, they’d have to put Montero at DH, lessening his value to them. It just not going to happen.

VB is referring to my proposed trade the other day and conveniently leaving out the fact that I said the deal as presented is contingent on the Yankees taking the full contract of Chone Figgins.

Montero is 21-years-old; I find it laughable that it’s automatically assumed that he’s not going to improve enough defensively to be able to catch in the big leagues. Judging by his caught stealing percentages in the minors, he’s got the arm to catch; the other stuff—blocking balls; calling a game—can be taught.

The concept that Chamberlain has “very little value” is propaganda on the opposite end of the spectrum of that which created the Joba Legend to begin with. Part of it is the fault of the Yankees; the rest stems from the media expectations of such a hyped prospect. He still throws a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and if he can’t start, he could be a good closer; he does have value given his age and low cost.

There’s validity to what Buster Olney wrote last week concerning the possibility that Hernandez might force his way out of Seattle. You do have to consider the source as Olney occasionally conjures things out of mid-air, but Hernandez is pitching with no margin for error on a start-by-start basis; because the Mariners can’t score, he’s never at liberty to let it fly, fire his blazing fastball and dare the hitters to touch him with it in mind that if he gives up a homer, so what? It’s always a one-run game where he doesn’t have the luxury of making a single mistake.

Would it be worth it for the Mariners to trade their one ultra-marketable commodity and get rid of that idiotic Figgins contract while bringing in a closer, a 27-year-old outfielder who can fly; a star pitching prospect; and a power bat who can catch?

The Mariners are going to be out from under the Milton Bradley contract after this year and Ichiro Suzuki‘s contract after next year. They’ll have a lot of money to spend to sign free agents and make bold trades to get better quickly.

It’s not something to dismiss out-of-hand.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Viewer Mail 4.3.2011

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mariners and Jack Zduriencik:

I bet if the “GENIUS” Jack Z. changed the club’s name to the Seattle Non-Conformists, no one would even notice. Maybe a handful would… care? I dunno.

Non-conformists? Acceptable.

Socipathic? Not-acceptable.

Look, I can’t blame Zduriencik for the appellation of genius or the “Truly Amazin’ Exec” silliness from the despicable Joel Sherman—he didn’t write this stuff and unlike Billy Beane, he didn’t appear to wallow in it and taking advantage of it to enrich himself and sow the seeds of that image.

You have to consider the sources who are plastering that image on someone who’s trying to do his job. None of them were operating from a baseline of credibility; either they had an agenda or didn’t know what they were talking about to begin with.

As for the Josh Lueke trade; the double-dealing when it came to Cliff Lee to the Yankees, then to the Rangers; and Milton Bradley, there are a lot of problems that had nothing to do with what happened between the lines.

Hypothetically, if Zduriencik is given a clean slate—let the 2009 (good) and 2010 (bad) seasons cancel themselves out—the Mariners still have to perform as if they’re in the right direction on the field and behave appropriately off it. Eric Wedge was a good hire toward that end, but with Bradley, there’s going to be an incident that will sully the organization again.

They have a loyal fan base in Seattle; they spend money; and have a nice ballpark. It’s a good locale to build a team.

Franklin Rabon writes RE the Dodgers and Hong-Chih Kuo:

The Dodgers have only one lefty and he’s their designated 8th inning guy who can’t throw more than two days in a row?!

I’m not of the mind that a team has to have a lefty specialist just for the sake of having a lefty specialist. You can find a lefty somewhere. Look at Royce Ring—he’s been everywhere; he’s been awful; and teams keep bringing him in because he’s lefty and breathing, not necessarily in that order.

You have to look at the opponents and the circumstances; if the Dodgers were in a division with the Red Sox, then I’d say they have to have a couple of lefties; but they’re in a division with the Padres, Rockies, Giants and Diamondbacks. Is there a group of lefty bats that have to be worried about among that group? Not really. As the season moves along and they need a lefty specialist, they’ll be able to find one.

Regarding Kuo, how many pitchers are asked to throw three days in a row in today’s game? Even the closers aren’t pushed that hard for fear of burning them out. With a dominating lefty with a 100-mph fastball and vicious slider like Kuo, I’d use him judiciously to make sure he’s healthy; he’s had Tommy John surgery twice and if the Dodgers are going to do anything in October, they’re going to need Kuo. Why burn him out now because he’s lefty?

JoeNats writes RE Nyjer Morgan:

As a Nats fan, I cooled to Nyjer in a game where he made a gallant attempt at a catch at the wall, missed it, and then–instead of keeping his head in the game and following the ball–threw his glove to the ground forcing Willingham to retrieve the rebound too late to thwart an inside-the-park home run. I get the impression that Morgan is just as hard on himself as he is on others and became a bi-polar influence in the clubhouse. As the season ran on, his impatience chilled potential rallies as he was thrown out on steals too early in the game and too early in the situation. If Morgan can temper his overall anger, I do believe he would make a good centerfielder and great base stealer and team personality.

He’s got a temper and as I said in my posting, I think it stems from his hockey experience where you can’t let any transgression go without retaliation.

My issue with Morgan wasn’t the player himself, but the lovelorn worship he received after playing brilliantly for the Nats following the trade from the Pirates.

He is what he is and part of that is getting caught stealing—a lot. Morgan needs to be reined in. Maybe going to the Brewers—the first club he’ll join with any legitimate designs on contention—is what he needs.

Like Elijah Dukes, the Nats had to get Morgan out of there and they got something for him in Cutter Dykstra; Morgan will be playing semi-regularly-to-regularly for the Brewers before long and they’ll be a better club for it.

Pam writes RE the NY Times picture of the Phillies that I posted here:

Yeah, the picture is pretty creepy.

Now if they were holding lightsabers…

They could be the Jedi trying to arrest Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. We know how that turned out.

I’ll be Palpatine.

I am Palpatine.

Joe (DaGodfather on Twitter) writes RE the Phillies pic:

I have a better question. Where’s Blanton? Wasn’t it the Phantastic Phour themselves who said that they would not do things like that if if did not include Blanton?

Including Joe Blanton in that article would’ve been pretty silly. He’s a pretty good pitcher who doesn’t belong in their group. I think back to the 1993 Braves. They’d just signed Greg Maddux and insisted that any profile of Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery included Pete Smith.

Pete Smith.

Pete Smith went 4-8 that year and after the season they traded him to the Mets of all places.

It would’ve been funny if they had Blanton lounging in front of the mound in a provocative position as the “Phoursome” was posed as they are now.

****

My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


//

Viewer Mail 1.31.2011

Hot Stove

Joe writes RE Milton Bradley:

No one hits like Albert Pujols. I am sure they would put up with Milton Teixeira though :)


Jeff at Red State Blue State also writes about Milton Bradley:

Hell, if the dude hit like Wilson Betemit they’d— wait, nevermind, the dude does hit like Wilson Betemit. But he’s making more cash than Wilson could ever dream about.

The M’s have become laughable. It’s sad really.

He was a terrific risk for the Mariners a year ago since, for no other reason, it got Carlos Silva‘s contract out of town; Silva was owned $25 million guaranteed; Bradley $21 million.

Bradley had an MVP-quality year in 2008 with the Rangers and whether you chalk up a large portion of it to playing in Texas and their hitter-friendly ballpark, he was good enough on the road for the Cubs to expect production—2008 splits link.

Feeling they could control him wasn’t far-fetched since he behaved in Texas. Lou Piniella had the reputation that suggested he’d handle a hothead like Bradley because Piniella himself is a hothead. Coming off their failed run in 2008, the Cubs needed a bat the type which Bradley was in 2008 for the Rangers.

On the field his numbers with the Cubs were somewhat respectable—albeit not in the stratosphere they were in 2008 with the Rangers. But there were the repeated incidents that hover over Bradley like a vulture.

In retrospect, the Mariners got rid of a pitcher, Silva, who was a disaster for them and saved $4 million on the contracts; but Bradley was a terror off the field—again—and he didn’t hit.

Taken by itself, this latest incident is unresolved and wouldn’t be enough to dump Bradley and eat the remaining $12 million on his deal. But it’s not an isolated incident; it’s an endless pattern in the history of Milton Bradley.

Add in that the Mariners were a dysfunctional, poorly behaved nightmare on and off the field last season and the question has to be asked: When is enough is going to be enough?

New manager Eric Wedge has a lot of work in front of him straightening out the on-field product and heading off the disciplinary issues that doomed Don Wakamatsu; he managed Bradley in Cleveland and they didn’t get along there either; do the Mariners really want to put Wedge in this situation where it’s a matter of when, not if, Bradley does something else? It could be arguing with an umpire; fighting with a teammate; or something worse off the field.

It’s interesting that you mention Wilson Betemit, Jeff—Betemit was much better than Bradley last season and not only in the context of the year Bradley had. Betemit had 13 homers in 315 plate appearances; batted .297 and had a .378 OBP and the Royals had him on a minor league contract!!

There is no reward to having Bradley on the team. Even if he comes back and plays well—and he’s been written off before and come back—what’s the trade-off? The Mariners have no shot at contention and a message needs to be sent to the rest of the team that they’re not going to tolerate misanthropic behavior. His mere presence is more of a negative than eating the money would be and I wouldn’t let him anywhere near spring training.

Mike Fierman writes RE my Saturday posting on the Mets and Bernie Madoff:

One of your best- I don’t even think the LaRussa/Ankiel comparison was needed.

I’m not one to shy away from compliments!

You may be right about the Tony La Russa/Rick Ankiel analogy, but I wanted to get something on-field and baseball-related in there to make clear how insane it is that the red flags of Madoff’s operation were missed by some very smart people.

In this NY Daily News story, Fred Wilpon and family are said to be “devastated” by the lawsuit and implication that they knew what was going on.

Naturally we don’t know what they knew and didn’t know.

A kind and generous man, I do not think that Wilpon “knew” what Madoff was doing; but because he wasn’t paying close attention to the preposterous nature of the consistent gains regardless of economic times, he’s not absolved.

As I said on Saturday, what was he going to do if he did find out about it? He could’ve pulled his money out and blown the whistle, but sometimes it’s just easier to feign ignorance when the evidence of a “too good to be true” nature is everywhere.

Savvy people can sense when something in their realm of expertise is off; someone close to Fred Wilpon had to have sensed something. They had to have.

Norm writes RE the Mets and Madoff:

The funniest thing about the Madoff-Wilpon story has had to be Mike Francesa’s take on it. He went from months of berating callers who were trying to explain how the Wilpons lost tons to a complete about-face yesterday without anything close to a ‘whoops’ or a ‘my bad’.

Apologize?

Acknowledge being wrong?

Mike….Francesa?

Are you kidding?

I don’t have an issue with saying the words, “I don’t know” when I don’t know. But Francesa, so immersed in his own ego that he can alter any event into him having a Nostradamus-like foresight as to its outcome—whether he said it publicly or not—won’t ever say those credit-accumulating words: “I…was…wrong.”

It’s not hard; nor is it an admission of weakness to not know everything.

On a whole other level, if he were to admit to having not known the scope of the Wilpon financial hit, his self-proclaimed image of an insider would disappear. The Wilpons were in financial trouble and no one told Mike Francesa about it?

If he didn’t get wind of the story from a credible source off-air, then it couldn’t be true. In his mind anyway.

Come on, Norm. This is a guy who had his football picks altered to be more accurate than they were; were you expecting any utterance of contrition for being wrong about this? NEVER!!!!

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

I care about what Levine said to Greenberg. I think other Yankee fans care too. And the consensus is – Good for Levine! Greenberg has been sniping at the Yankees and their fans since Mrs. Lee whined about having beer dumped on her at Yankee Stadium. He was apparently made to apologize by MLB. But it continues. I think Levine was trying to say, “Enough already. Just worry about your own team.”

I think they both need to keep quiet.

Levine could’ve turned around and said exactly that. “Worry about your own team.” But he didn’t.

The “welfare “stuff was ridiculous.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats has two comments; first RE Levine vs Greenberg:

From what I understand, Greenberg didn’t direct his comment about Lee at anyone in the Yankee organization. He was asked a question by a fan at the local Ranger Fan Fest and he gave his [purely speculative] opinion.

He wasn’t sniping at anyone, as far as I can tell. Somebody seems to be a little overly sensitive [speaking about the Yankee front office, not Ms. Heller above].

I’m channeling my inner Don King when I suggest a fight between Levine and Greenberg under the promotional title: Greenberg vs Levine—Two Jews Slap-Fighting.

And RE the Mariners:

As far as the Mariners go, I feel bad for those poor fans up in the Pacific Northwest. I am a Rangers fan and I grew up hating [but respecting] Griffey Jr. and his organization.

Still, to see them fall so far in recent years, after their one decent stretch in the ’90s, leaves me with a fair amount of sympathy.

They need to rebuild. They need to do what the Rangers did just 4 years ago and tell their fans “Please stick with us, we won’t be this terrible forever. We’re turning this ship around.”

Part of that process would probably involve letting their GM go, as he seems both dazed and confused most of the time. Then you sell off the pieces you don’t absolutely need and get younger.

Off the top of my head, I would hold onto King Felix, Gutierrez, and Ichiro. I suppose you also give Justin Smoak an opportunity to prove himself [I never understood why fans around here were so excited about the guy or why the M’s seemed just as excited].

After that, restock your system and put a few warm bodies on the field until fresh talent comes up.

I suppose all of that sounds easier than it is, but at least it’s a plan. Right now they just seem to be wandering in the dark, hoping some natural disaster wipes out the rest of the American League or something.

Jack Zduriencik is a very intelligent baseball man who made a lot of moves to slash money, import and dispatch players.

His three biggest downfalls stem from the appellation of “genius”—which wasn’t his fault; the over-aggressiveness to get better fast rather than let the team grow organically with a cautious approach; and the shunning of responsibility and personal conduct exemplified in the blame game firing of Wakamatsu; and the bad actors brought into the organization.

I’d give Zduriencik a pass for the player moves that failed; but the lack of discipline in the organization is inexcusable.

I would not move Felix Hernandez; I’d keep an open mind on Franklin Gutierrez but wouldn’t be inclined to deal him.

I’m not a fan of Ichiro Suzuki; I think he’s a losing player who senses which way the wind is blowing in terms of club fortunes and goes for stats once the season is lost; he’s overpaid and underproductive. Last season, I got into a monthlong series of debates about Ichiro. I insist he could hit for more power if he decided to do so but would prefer to accumulate his gaudy hit totals with singles to left field.

That’s neither here nor there.

Apart from these players, if you look up and down the Mariners roster, there’s a limited number of players other teams would: A) want; or B) give up anything of significance to get.

We won’t know about the Zduriencik drafts for some time and he may not be there to reap their rewards, if any.

Pat Gillick lives in Seattle. And the Hall of Famer hasn’t officially retired.

I hope I’m not being cryptic.

The Seattle Zoo

Hot Stove

Despite his arrest on charges of threatening a woman, Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley will be brought to camp this spring—Seattle Times Story.

This is on the heels of a hellish 2010 season; a season that was incomprehensible in terms of everything that could have gone wrong not simply going wrong, but going beyond wrong into the ludicrous and felonious.

Oh, and non-roster invitee Adam Kennedy was arrested for DUI Wednesday night.

Individually, the events that have befallen the Mariners organization in the past year can be chalked up to humanity and “stuff” happening; but as a whole, the team appears to be a dysfunctional, enabling, morally and ethically challenged zoo poisoned by a culture of subterfuge and semantics and protected by those who have a stake in the current regime’s success.

The suggestion that I’m harping on the negatives of the tenure of GM Jack Zduriencik as some means of advancing my own interests is nonsense. Since he took over, I’ve taken great steps to do two things: One, I’ve said that he’s a smart man and qualified baseball executive; two, I’ve emphatically suggested that the appellation of “genius” after one season on the job was not only hasty, but unfair, inaccurate and potentially damaging.

It’s not a mystery as to why those who are so immersed in their own agendas are clinging to the notion that Zduriencik—with an affinity for stats and information along with a background in scouting—is destined to lead the Mariners to glory. But there comes a time for reality—objective reality that is so often trumpeted as the true way to run a club effectively.

And the objective reality is that the Mariners have degenerated into a laughable nightmare on and off the field.

No one could’ve lived up to the hype that Zduriencik has endured in his rise and ongoing fall. Much like the Moneyball crowd has altered their rhetoric and the participants and facilitator—Michael Lewis—adjusted to account for the book’s inaccuracies in theory and practice, the goalposts are being moved for their beloved Jack Z.

None of that is relevant.

Had the Mariners gone from an 85 win club and rising force to 100 losses, it would’ve been tolerable and chalked up to happenstance. Everything that went right in 2009 went wrong in 2010. Fair enough. But the off-field incidents and allegations of malfeasance on the part of the GM are getting to be too much to withstand.

The way in which the Mariners backed out on a supposedly agreed upon deal to send Cliff Lee to the Yankees was shady but explainable. That the deal they did make brought them Josh Lueke, who’d pleaded no contest to a sexual assault while in the Rangers minor league system, and the subsequent spin doctoring and misleading statements from the club were indicative of the disconnect that’s still going on.

The Ken Griffey Jr. napping episode; Chone Figgins‘s near fistfight with then-manager Don Wakamatsu; the firing of Wakamatsu as an exercise in “here, blame him”; the Bradley drama that never ends—it’s all within the confines of criticism for those who are running the organization.

And they’re bringing Bradley back.

The Mariners are giving the impression of disinterest in the behavior of their employees. That would be somewhat acceptable if Bradley could still play!!!If he’d done anything last season on the field to warrant being given another chance!!! If there was a reason to keep him apart from his $12 million salary for 2011!!!

Bradley batted .205 last season; his on base percentage was .292; he hit 8 homers and struck out 75 times in 278 plate appearances.

What use is he other than as an explosion waiting to happen?

If the Mariners are keeping Bradley because of his salary or through some misguided notion that he’s still able to contribute, then they need to re-think their analytical skills. The money is gone; maybe they can reach a financial settlement rather than go through a legal avenue to void the contract based on morals clauses and habitual offenses—that’s debatable—but he’s useless to them.

The theme is recurring.

And it has to stop.

For all the success they’ve had in the past four seasons, I’m convinced that the Rays turnaround stemmed not  from the name change of “Devil Rays” to “Rays”; not from the number one draft picks and prospects accumulated by the current and prior regimes; not from their luck changing, but because of the conscious decision after the 2007 season—which had eerie similarities to the Mariners 2010 season—to dispatch of any and all malcontents and misanthropes in the organization.

The Rays dumped the gifted Josh Hamilton; traded former number one draft pick Delmon Young; and traded Elijah Dukes. Pitching coach Jim Hickey’s DUI appeared to be the final straw for the club in 2007; after that, they didn’t tolerate any more off-field garbage. Bringing in character players like Eric Hinske, Troy Percival, Carlos Pena, Dan Wheeler and Cliff Floyd helped; but it was the “no…more….crap” edict that I believe altered their fortunes.

It doesn’t matter than Hamilton has blossomed into a star; that the Young deal was a terrific one for the Rays; nor that they were right about Dukes—the results with those players means nothing. What was important was the message that if these players and employees didn’t want to adhere to a reasonable code of personal conduct, they could go elsewhere.

The Mariners need to do this.

The statement, “If you don’t want to be here, we will accommodate you” isn’t a threat; it’s not a warning; it’s a fact.

If Milton Bradley hit like Albert Pujols, I’d understand and agree—put up with it—but he doesn’t.

Have the Mariners, after the last year, not reached that threshold?

The broken window policy is a key to regaining respect as an organization. What happens on the field is secondary to the perception that the Mariners are a place where you don’t want to be if you’re a player.

I was of the opinion that the Mariners, regardless of their on-field results, had to act appropriately off the field if Zduriencik is going to survive as GM. It’s January and already they’re in the front part of the newspaper rather than the back where they belong—twice.

It’s not a good start to a new year.

Not at all.

How much are they willing to take? And when’s it going to stop?

When?