Ron Roenicke’s firing was out of convenience

MLB

It’s not Ron Roenicke’s fault that the Milwaukee Brewers are 7-18, but if he’s absolved of the blame when the team plays poorly, nor does he deserve credit for the division title the team won in his first year as manager. In examining the circumstances that resulted in his ouster, Roenicke was fired out of convenience.

In defense of Roenicke, the manager’s job is smack in the center of the spotlight when things go poorly; when players underperform; when injuries happen and it’s mostly in a negative light. The Brewers have good players whose numbers have been consistent year-in/year-out. They’ve gotten off to a terrible start and it cost Roenicke his job. What he could have done about it is a mystery. Veteran players have their own pace and are, generally, left alone by the manager. If they don’t perform, what’s the manager to do?

Validating the decision to make a change, the Brewers can still save the season making it reasonable to jettison him now before the deficit is too deep to overcome. It’s early enough that there’s a lesser chance of the veterans pulling the “screw this” card, going through the motions to get the season over with.

Roenicke’s replacement, Craig Counsell, was a grinder as a player and has made the rounds as a front office executive, potential hitting coach and manager. He’s on the same page with general manager Doug Melvin and will evaluate what’s currently on the roster from inside the clubhouse to determine whether this can be salvaged or it’s time to clean house. They have players other teams would want including Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kyle Lohse. Or they could look at the parity-laden state of baseball today and wait to see if the change ignites the team and they can jump back into the race. It’s happened before.

Bob Nightengale said on Twitter that owner Mark Attanasio lost patience. In truth, Attanasio, while an engaged owner, is not an overt meddler on a level with Jeffrey Loria. He spurred the mid-September firing of Ned Yost in 2008 when it was clear that the Brewers’ season was spiraling out of control. Dale Sveum calmed the ship, ended the swirling speculation regarding Yost, and screeched to a halt the panic that was engulfing the team to get them to the playoffs. While it might have been unfair not to let Yost complete the rebuild he oversaw, those Brewers had traded for CC Sabathia and were in pure go-for-it mode. They made a decision to save the season and in spite of losing in the NLDS to the Philadelphia Phillies, it worked.

The Brewers knew what they were getting when they hired Roenicke. Managers tend to mimic those they’ve worked for and with. As a branch of the Mike Scioscia/Tom Lasorda managing tree, Roenicke ran the club in a strategically similar fashion to Scioscia and Lasorda. He wanted innings from his starters; had a defined manner in which he used his relievers; and he favored an inside baseball, old-school National League-style of play.

Unfortunately for him, he’s missing fundamental aspects of those two mentors and it contributed to his downfall. Without the foul mouth and outgoing personality of Lasorda and the stoic, fatherly intimidation of Scioscia, when the club began to unravel, there wasn’t much for Roenicke to do other than hope that his players’ talent would revert to normal.

Roenicke wasn’t the in-your-face type. If he ran in and flipped the food table, ripped players in the media, or cussed out reporters like Bryan Price, it would have been a transparent attempt to do something different. It might have been perceived as the unhinged, “the pressure is getting to me” response of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time. Roenicke didn’t do any of that. He stayed the same when they were winning and losing and it’s an admirable, honorable way to go down – one that might get him another managing job, eventually.

While Roenicke made strange maneuvers as a manager and was more of an empty uniform sitting at the end of the dugout than an inspirational leader, he still had a mid-market club with payroll limitations finish over .500 in three of his four full seasons including that one playoff appearance. He was in trouble last season after the Brewers’ fast start and collapse down the stretch. They brought him back. Like this horrid first month, there’s an ongoing, mirror-image exaggeration as to what the team was in 2014 and is in 2015. They weren’t that good a year ago when, at this time, they were 21-11 and they’re not as bad as 7-18 today. Roenicke was replaceable, so they replaced him. In part, it was Roenicke’s lack of pretense that did him in.

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Analysis of the Kyle Lohse Signing

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Brewers have signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract making Scott Boras look like a genius again. In this market, at this late date and with the draft pick compensation attached to Lohse, to somehow convince the Brewers (and probably the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio) that they needed Lohse when they didn’t need Lohse is worthy of a bow.

Let’s look at the signing.

For Lohse

We’ll know soon enough whether Lohse was a creation of the Dr. Frankenstein-like corpse rejuvenation of former Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan or if he has become a different pitcher whose new mentality, mechanics, approach and stuff that can translate the knowledge everywhere. But here are the facts:

  • Lohse gives up more fly balls than ground balls and is going from a home ballpark that allowed 140 homers to a ballpark that allowed 230 homers
  • The Cardinals’ infield defense was average; the Brewers’ was bad
  • He’ll be working with a catcher that’s not Yadier Molina

Because Lohse learned to pound the strike zone, trust his catcher and defense, and not worry about the outcome as long as he made his pitches—Duncan trademarks—he reached a level of success with the Cardinals that he never did in any of his prior stops. That he’s leaving the Cardinals isn’t as much of a factor as where he’s going and going to Milwaukee to join a pockmarked team with multiple holes and is floating halfway between a rebuild and clinging to the tendrils of contention, his margin for error is gone and what worked with the Cardinals is unlikely to work with the Brewers.

In short, he can do the exact same things with the Brewers he did with the Cardinals and have drastically different—and worse—results.

For the Brewers

Anything they did was bound to make a gutted starting rotation better. They were beginning the season with Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation and a series of question marks behind him. There’s some ability with Wily Peralta and perhaps useful mid-rotation arms with Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers. Their bullpen isn’t particularly good and manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t distinguished himself as a field boss who can inspire overachievement in his players. It’s a bad sign when a pitcher signs with a club a week before the season starts and he’s automatically their number 2. Of course it has to be footnoted why Lohse was sitting out for so long as teams didn’t want to surrender the draft pick compensation, but they were also concerned about what I alluded to earlier: that he’s not going to be as good away from the Cardinals and not worth the money he wanted and, by all rights considering his performance, deserved.

For the National League

Are teams looking at the Brewers and seeing how they can hit thinking, “Whoa!! They got Lohse!!! Watch them!!”?

No.

Lohse is a pitcher who’s a “Yeah, we can use him I guess” arm, but he’s not a difference-maker for a mediocre team. The Brewers have him for three years when they’re locked in the vacancy of a simultaneous rebuild/contend. History has proven that’s not only very hard to do, but can be destructive when a team surrenders a draft pick (the 17th overall) to get the player who: A) won’t help that much; and B) will cost them the draft slot where there can be a very good player available (Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels were taken at 17).

I wouldn’t have done this and I doubt the Brewers’ baseball people would’ve done it either if they weren’t forced to do so by the owner who’s the latest in a long line of smart men who were sold on a player they didn’t need by the mastermind named Scott Boras.

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Rules Of Denial For PED Suspects

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, History, Management, Media, MVP, PEDs, Players, Politics, Stats

For athletes accused of using performance enhancing drugs, we’ve seen the list of don’ts in action. They’re repeated over and over again with denials, accusations, shifting of the blame, finger pointing (literally and figuratively), shouting and adamant insistence of innocence that, by and large, turn out to be lies.

Maybe it’s time for some new tactics and advice that, naturally, no one will listen to.

Short and sweet

Did your English teacher ever use this phrase when teaching writing? Did you listen? Probably not. There’s a perception that the longer the response, the more complete it is and with that, the believability rises.

It doesn’t. The more you say, the more traps you set for yourself and the larger number of statements can be fact-checked.

Ryan Braun is the latest example of an accused PED user who’s either the unluckiest guy in baseball or is consorting with the wrong people who keep getting him into trouble. When his name came up in connection with Anthony Bosch’s Miami clinic, he released a written statement that was quoted by the New York Times in this piece. A clip relevant to Braun is below:

Braun issued his own denial on Tuesday night, saying in a written statement that during the course of preparing for the appeal of his positive test last year, “my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant.” He said Bosch answered questions for his lawyers about testosterone levels and the possibilities of tampering with urine samples.

“There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under ‘moneys owed’ and not on any other list,” Braun said. “I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch. I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter.”

Braun has a lot to say when he’s accused. When he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in 2011, Braun wasn’t proven “innocent.” He got off on technicality due to the supposedly fractured chain of custody for his urine sample and because the since-fired MLB arbitrator ruled in his favor. Then he held a press conference doubling down on the outrage.

Now his name came up again.

I don’t know what he did or didn’t do, but I do know he needs to refer to his attorneys when something like this crops up and stop yapping so much. The longer the explanation; the more extensive the litany of excuses; the greater number of people you reference as having done X, Y, and Z, the guiltier you probably are.

The more you whine the worse you sound

See Lance Armstrong’s decades of denial and how ridiculous his head shaking, shrugging, feigned disbelief that anyone dare mention him as a PED case and how foolish he looks now to understand why moaning and groaning at the injustice is a waste of time and energy—especially if you’re guilty.

Armstrong, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez have all provided flimsy excuses of one degree or another. All got caught. All continued to lie. Palmeiro was the previously alluded to finger-pointer. It still stuns me that people believed that these individuals were clean. Looking at the bulked up bodies and numbers and realizing that there are certain things that the human body simply cannot do naturally is the first signal that something was amiss. But when a person has been catered to for his entire life because of his athletic prowess, his “heroism,” his skills, and winked and nodded at by his bosses, what’s he supposed to do? He’ll lie, make a mess and wait for someone else to clean it up because that’s what’s gone on from the day they were discovered as “different” than the other kids.

If there’s a quirk of statistical performance, you’re going to get accused

The case study of a player whose recent performance was called into question not as an accusation but as a legitimate curiosity as to how it was happening was Raul Ibanez in 2009 during his MVP-caliber first half with the Phillies. Ibanez was enraged that he was mentioned as a possible PED user, but he wasn’t accused. It was reasonable to wonder to how Ibanez could suddenly develop into an upper echelon star at age 37. He never tested positive and his performance took a nosedive after the first half with the Phillies.

Did the National League spent the first four months of the season figuring out his weaknesses and challenging him? Did they latch onto his holes until he became the same good but not great player he always was? Or did he stop using something for fear of getting busted? He never got caught so his record is clean, but given the era and the numbers, was it a wrong to ask? Fellow players think the same things if another player who’d never exhibited certain attributes for his entire career is suddenly hitting 400 ft. home runs with an alarming and unbelievable frequency. Many times they’re right.

Lawyering up doesn’t make one guilty

There’s a common belief that asking for an attorney or referring all questions to legal representation and refusing to comment is a tacit admission of guilt. That’s a myth. If an individual is innocent, there’s no reason to talk and say things that might be perceived as incriminating. If an individual is guilty, the worst thing he can do is what Braun did and yap, yap, yap as if he’s trying to convince everyone that in spite of the frosting dripping down his shirt, he didn’t eat the cake.

Perhaps it quiets the storm down to a certain extent when publicly pronouncing oneself innocent and playing stupid, but if there’s proof of guilt, it’s going to come out eventually and not only will the player be branded a cheat, but he’ll be a liar as well.

“Not me” didn’t work for Jeffy and it won’t work for you

This speaks for itself.

Two words are the simplest and “not me” ain’t them. They’re easy to remember but difficult to follow. Even so, players would be wise to heed them:

SHUT……UP!!!!!!!!

It’s for your own good.

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Javier Vazquez’s Comeback and Potential Suitors

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Javier Vazquez surprisingly retired after a solid season for the Marlins in 2011 in which he posted a 13-11 record; a 3.69 ERA; a hits/innings pitched ratio of 178/192 with 50 walks and 178 strikeouts. It must be added that he also had a dreadful start, pitching terribly until mid-June. For the entire second half, he was a different pitcher, one who was in demand as a free agent and chose to “retire” at age 35.

He can still pitch, just not as a Yankee, having failed there twice. I certainly wouldn’t bring him back to the Yankees, nor to Boston or Baltimore, but every other contending or would-be contending club is an option and Vazquez, while not saying he’s definitely returning, will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and has said he’s considering a comeback to MLB. For a $10 million payday, why not?

So which teams could use Vazquez and meet the criteria as contender?

Let’s take a look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays don’t really need another starter, but I suppose they could trade Ricky Romero and attach Adam Lind to him to get Lind’s contract off the roster in exchange for a 1B/DH bat and install Vazquez into the spot, but I’d keep Vazquez away from the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Vazquez isn’t coming back for an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary, which is essentially the only method in which the Rays invest in free agents as they did with Roberto Hernandez (née Fausto Carmona). Tampa would be a good spot in every aspect, but they can’t pay him.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians agreed to terms with Brett Myers yesterday and are using him as a starter. They’re clearly intent on trying to win within their means under new manager Terry Francona and Vazquez would fall into the veteran starting pitcher template. Francona’s gentle handling of his players would suit Vazquez.

Los Angeles Angels

Vazquez is better than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, but again, teams didn’t know Vazquez was available. The Angels don’t have any room for him now.

Texas Rangers

His penchant for allowing home runs is a concern in Texas, but their infield defense would also help him greatly. They’re a contender, would prefer a pitcher on a short-term contract and have had success with pitchers like Colby Lewis who’ve left for Japan and came back to MLB making Vazquez’s departure and return a non-issue.

The Rangers are a definite possibility.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are waiting out Adam LaRoche and his free agency tour. In a free agency family tree sort of situation, LaRoche might go to the Red Sox if their contract snag with Mike Napoli isn’t ironed out and the deal comes undone. If that’s the case, the Nats won’t be able to trade Mike Morse. If they can trade Morse, they can move him for a starting pitcher. Or they can sign Vazquez and worry about the other stuff later.

Vazquez spent the first six years of his career with the Nats organization when they were in Montreal. He’s a perfect fit back in the NL East where he had his best years and pitching for a legitimate World Series contender in Washington.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have enough starting pitching, so much so that they traded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden. But Brandon Beachy is returning from Tommy John surgery and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are kids, so there’s a spot for a veteran like Vazquez if they want him. Vazquez had the year of his life with the Braves in 2009, won 15 games (he should have won 22) and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. It’s doubtful they’d do it, but it’s logical.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vazquez is better than John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick—the two pitchers at the back of the Phillies rotation and gigantic steps down from the top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—but the home run ball would be an issue for Vazquez and the Phillies offense and defense aren’t what they once were to account for Vazquez’s faults. He’d surrender a ton of homers in Philadelphia. He’s probably ill-suited mentally to the fans of Philadelphia booing him if he pitches 6 no-hit innings and then gives up a run in the seventh with the team leading 10-1.

Milwaukee Brewers

They desperately need starting pitching and have money to spend, but I’m not sure they’re contenders even though they can hit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They just spent a large portion of available funds on Francisco Liriano. But they might be able to swing Vazquez. They’re intriguing for Vazquez and vice versa. The Pirates are a NL Central club with a big ballpark and enough young talent to be taken seriously as a contender, so perhaps they can work something out with Vazquez if they clear some money elsewhere.

San Diego Padres

The Padres don’t have a ton of money to toss around nor status as a winter contender, but they could surprise in 2013 with their onrushing young talent. They also brought the fences in and lowered the walls at Petco Park, which would affect a homer-prone pitcher like Vazquez.

They could jump in on him in a surprise move.

Vazquez didn’t plan this very well if he wanted to start a bidding war. He realistically could’ve guaranteed himself $12 million if he’d made his services available at the conclusion of the 2012 season and seen the bidding go up with a 1-year deal plus an option with the requisite buyout. He could’ve made $15 million if he’d played it right.

All things considered, Vazquez and the Nationals are destined to wind up together. That’s if he decides to pitch; and if the Nats don’t trade Morse; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t try to prove himself “right” by going after Vazquez again for the Yankees.

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Zack Greinke—Free Agency Profile

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Name: Zack Greinke

Position: Right-handed starting pitcher

Vital Statistics: Age—29; Height—6’2”; Weight—200 lbs; Bats—Right; Throws—Right

Transactions: June 2002—Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 1st round (6th pick) MLB Draft from Apopka HS in Florida; traded by the Kansas City Royals

December 19, 2010—Traded by the Royals to the Milwaukee Brewers with INF Yuniesky Betancourt and cash for OF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, and RHP Jake Odorizzi

July 27, 2012—Traded by the Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for SS Jean Segura, RHP Ariel Pena, and RHP Johnny Hellweg

Awards: 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner

Agent: Casey Close

Might he return to the Angels? Yes

Teams that could use and pay him: Los Angels Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers

Positives: Greinke has a low-90s fastball that he can accelerate it up to around 97 when he needs it; this is what was referred to 100 years ago by the likes of Christy Mathewson as “pitching in a pinch.” His control is masterful; he has three variations on his fastball—a cutter, a four-seamer, and a two-seamer—a curve, slider, and changeup. The combination makes him one of the most gifted pitchers in baseball.

He formulates a gameplan and executes it. Greinke’s motion is clean and effortless and he’s been physically healthy (apart from a his fractured rib incurred playing basketball) for his whole career. He can hit, is a fine all-around athlete, and a leader off the field ready and willing to provide tips to teammates and even the front office.

Negatives: His much-publicized psychological issues and battle with depression have led to the perception that he wouldn’t be able to handle the high-pressure East Coast venues of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. He has a deer-in-the-headlights look that put forth the image of fear and inability to deal with big games. His one opportunity in the post-season came in 2011 with the Brewers and he got rocked in three starts.

What he’ll want: 7-years, $167 million with a full no-trade clause

What he’ll get: 6-years, $148 million with a 7th year option raising it to a potential $170 million and a full no-trade clause

Teams that might give it to him: Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, Red Sox, Cardinals

The Rangers want Greinke and have the money to pay him, but they’re not going as high as the bidding will get. The Angels have the cash, but they re-signed Jered Weaver and signed C.J. Wilson to essentially duplicate contracts that each total about half of what Greinke wants. Are they going to make an increasingly toxic clubhouse atmosphere worse by overpaying for an outsider after Weaver went against the wishes of his agent Scott Boras by taking a down-the-line salary to forego free agency and stay? With the Albert Pujols contract on the books, I don’t see Arte Moreno okaying such an outlay for Greinke.

The Nationals are loaded with money but, truthfully, they don’t need Greinke. They’ll spend their money on a center fielder and if they want another starting pitcher will go the cheaper/easier route with a lower level name with Dan Haren or by trading for James Shields.

The Red Sox are trying to get back to their roots of the Theo Epstein era, but have also made some noise for players like Josh Hamilton and Greinke who might not be best-suited for Boston. Like with Hamilton, the Red Sox could panic as a response to the anger of their fan base and the drastic improvement of the Blue Jays.

The Cardinals have money to spend with Chris Carpenter and Carlos Beltran both coming off the books after 2013; they’re going to need to sign Adam Wainwright, but the departure of Pujols truly freed the Cardinals to do other things. Greinke would be great in St. Louis.

In the end, it comes down to what the Dodgers are willing to do. Cash is no object; they have money with their new ownership and they’re spending it.

Would I sign Greinke? If I had the money to spend and the agreeable, relaxed venue, I would. Greinke in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia is not a good idea.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? It’s a lot of money and that amount of money for a pitcher is a risk. That said, Greinke is 29 and keeps himself in shape. As far as pitchers go, he’s more likely than most to be able to stay healthy and productive for the length of a 6-7 year deal.

Prediction: Greinke will sign with the Dodgers.

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2012 MLB Award Winners—National League MVP

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Here are my top five finishers for the National League Most Valuable Player along with who I picked in the preseason.

1. Buster Posey, C—San Francisco Giants

Not only did Posey have to handle a pitching staff that was the key to his club’s success, he had to function as the centerpiece of the Giants’ offensive attack and he was doing it a year after he’d sustained a devastating ankle injury in a collision at home plate.

Where would the Giants have been without him? The concept that he could’ve sat behind the plate in a rocking chair and nurtured that pitching staff based on its greatness is ludicrous. Barry Zito gets by with trickery; Tim Lincecum was dealing with extended adversity on the mound for the first time; and they lost their closer Brian Wilson—the one constant was Posey.

Statistically at the plate, he led the National League in batting (.336); led the majors in OPS+ (172); had 24 homers, 39 doubles and an OBP of .406.

2. Andrew McCutchen, CF—Pittsburgh Pirates

If the award was handed out at mid-season, McCutchen would’ve won. As much of a linchpin to the Giants as Posey was, McCutchen was more of a key to the Pirates’ woeful offense. McCutchen had a .327/.400/.553 slash line with 31 homers, a league-leading 194 hits, 20 stolen bases and good defense in center field.

3. Yadier Molina, C—St. Louis Cardinals

Molina has become an offensive force to go along with his all-world defense. Posting a 48% caught stealing rate and completely shutting down the opposition’s running game is written in ink before the season, but he also had a .315/.373/.501 slash line with 22 homers, along with 12 stolen bases in 15 tries.

4. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

I almost wish Braun had been head-and-shoulders above the other competitors to see if there would be enough fallout from his failed PED test after winning the award in 2011, and then the deft stickhandling the Players Association did to overturn his suspension.

Braun wound up leading the league with 41 homers and OPS at .987. He also stole 30 bases and has become a respectable glove in left field.

Had he been the clear MVP, he wouldn’t have won it.

5. Michael Bourn, CF—Atlanta Braves

Bourn’s defense was superlative, he stole 42 bases and had a career high 9 homers. The main reason he’s ahead of other candidates Chase Headley, Clayton Kershaw, and David Wright is that his team made the playoffs. Otherwise all have cases for the 5th spot.

My preseason pick for the NL MVP was Troy Tulowitzki.

Yah.

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2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

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Here are my picks for the Rookie of the Year in each league along with who I picked in the preseason.

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF—Los Angeles Angels

Many say Trout should be the MVP over Miguel Cabrera even though Cabrera won the Triple Crown, so how could he not be the Rookie of the Year?

Trout was recalled by the Angels at the end of April in a “save us” move as they started the season at 6-14 and were on the verge of panic. At age 20, he did everything possible to save the season with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, a league leading OPS+ of 171, and Gold Glove defense in center field. He may not win the MVP—in fact, I think he won’t—but he’s Rookie of the Year.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF—Oakland Athletics

Cespedes was a risky signing for the Athletics and many, myself included, wondered what Billy Beane was thinking about. Cespedes started the season looking raw and unschooled; he was also frequently injured. Talent won out, however, and he hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases, with an .861 OPS.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP—Texas Rangers

Darvish shoved it to everyone who dismissed him under the absurd logic that he was from Japan and because Daisuke Matsuzaka was a disaster, that Darvish would be a disaster as well.

Darvish went 16-9, struck out 221 in 191 innings and showed dominating potential.

4. Ryan Cook, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Cook took over as closer when Grant Balfour slumped. Balfour eventually retook the role, but without Cook, the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 73 innings and made the All-Star team.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

His season was cut short by a broken wrist in August, but he entered a toxic atmosphere and replaced a former star player Kevin Youkilis, performing well enough to spark Youkilis’s trade to the White Sox. Middlebrooks hit 15 homers in 286 plate appearances.

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My preseason pick was Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. He hit 15 homers, but struggled for extended periods.

National League

1. Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

The key for Harper wasn’t whether he could play at the big league level at 19—he probably could’ve held his own at 17—but if he would act like the spoiled, loudmouthed brat he was in the minors and engender vitriol not around the league (that was unavoidable), but in his own clubhouse.

He behaved with an impressive maturity for the most part aside from the usual bits of stupidity like nearly hitting himself in the eye with his bat during a runway tantrum, and did most of his talking on the field. He had 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, and an .817 OPS. His humiliation of Cole Hamels by stealing home after Hamels intentionally hit him was a thing of beauty.

2. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

Very quietly, the 30-year-old Aoki had a solid all-around season. He played very good defense in right field; had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.

3. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

With the injury to Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy falling back from his work in 2011, Miley saved the Diamondbacks from a season under .500. Miley began the season in the bullpen, but made the All-Star team as a starter and won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA and only 37 walks and 14 homers allowed in 194 innings.

4. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

Scott Rolen missed a chunk of the season with his usual injuries and Joey Votto was out with knee surgery, but the Reds didn’t miss a beat on the way to 97 wins and the NL Central title in part because of Frazier’s power and production as a utility player. He hit 19 homers and had an .829 OPS in 465 plate appearances.

5. Lucas Harrell, RHP—Houston Astros

Somehow Harrell managed to finish with an 11-11 record, and a 3.76 ERA for an Astros team that lost 107 games and by August resembled a Double A team with all the gutting trades they made during the season.

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My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso of the Padres. He had a good season with 39 doubles, 9 homers, and a .741 OPS. He would’ve wound up around 6th or 7th on my list.

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Collapses and Comebacks

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Would the Phillies and Brewers have staged these remarkable leaps back into contention had they not made the mid-season housecleaning trades in what was a tacit concession that it wasn’t going to happen for them this season? And where would the Phillies be had they not signed Cole Hamels and been forced to trade him?

The players both clubs acquired in dealing away Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Joe Blanton, and Zack Greinke haven’t done anything to help their new teams in the short term, so there are other reasons that they’ve gotten to within striking distance of the second Wild Card in the National League.

The Phillies have taken great advantage of finally being fully healthy in their starting rotation and are beating on dead teams like the Marlins and Rockies. More fuel will be added to the idea of a “miracle” if they take care of business against the Astros this weekend. Because they have that pitching, they’ll be competitive the rest of season, but it’s more likely that reality will strike when they play the Braves and Nationals in 9 of the final 19 games.

In addition to the Phillies and Brewers, the Dodgers, Pirates and even the Padres have a legitimate claim on saying, “Hey, we’re in this thing!” Perception is the key here. The Phillies, Brewers and Padres have nothing to lose and were left for dead, so it’s not going to be seen as a “collapse” if they fall short. The Pirates will be judged as having collapsed; the Dodgers flurry of trades will be viewed as a “failure”. The Cardinals, on the other hand, will be judged in the prism of disintegration. The Cardinals aren’t that good to begin with and certainly not markedly better than the teams chasing them.

In the American League, the Yankees are crawling to the finish line and, before running into the A’s, the Angels were making a run similar to that of the Phillies.

What does all this mean?

In the future, we’re going to see teams reluctant to make drastic mid-season trades to dump salary if they’re within 10 games of one of the Wild Card spots. Unless an offering team bowls them over by overpaying, it makes no sense to simply trade away pieces that could be used to make a run no matter how much of a fantasy, how many things have to go right for that run to happen. On an annual basis, these “miraculous” comebacks are becoming so frequent that they’re not miraculous anymore. There’s a reason they’re happening. Teams can’t coast into the playoffs and the pursuing teams can’t give up. That means players are playing all-out until the end whereas in the past, they might’ve put up a pretense of trying hard and shrugged when it became too much work.

Naturally, there are extenuating circumstances. The Red Sox and Dodgers are two such cases. The Red Sox blew it up knowing that even if they make another managerial change at the conclusion of this season, leaving Josh Beckett in that clubhouse, in that town was not going to work. They cleared money with Carl Crawford, and moved a player who was ill-suited to Boston, the Red Sox, and the East Coast in Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers are flush with cash, banking on a new TV deal, and weren’t good enough as constructed at the time of the trades.

The Yankees, seemingly content with their lead in the AL East and knowing they had the two Wild Cards as a fallback if the unthinkable happened, didn’t do much at the trading deadline. Still clinging to concept of getting under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, they didn’t make a move on the big names available such as Cliff Lee. (That the Phillies were entertaining thoughts of trading Lee should tell you how surprised Ruben Amaro Jr. is that they’ve jumped back in the race.) Instead, the disappearing GM Brian Cashman (where is he?) chose to make small and insignificant moves such as Casey McGehee, Steve Pearce, and Derek Lowe. Now they’re staring in the face of being bounced from the playoffs entirely as a casualty in the stunning rise and comebacks of the Orioles, Rays, Athletics, and Angels.

As July 31st approaches, the line between contender and also-ran is increasingly blurry. Teams that win two straight games and “climb” to within 5 games of a playoff spot or lose three straight and fall to 8 back are alternatingly seen as buyers and sellers. It’s permeated front offices and the amount of coverage that the deadline and contracts and “plans” receive are infiltrating logical thinking.

Apart from the lower echelon teams like the Astros, Cubs, and Twins who are so far behind at the deadline that not even a streak of 20 wins in 25 games is going to do much good, we’re not going to have big time players available for the contenders. Teams without a preseason acceptance that they’re not contending are going to stick with their roster from the preseason and see who collapses in front of them. It’s happening to the Yankees, so it can happen to anyone.

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Joe Girardi Channels His Inner Billy Martin

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Joe Girardi turned into Billy Martin, but he did it at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Girardi was said to have blown up at Joel Sherman of the New York Post after his post-game press conference. It’s unknown whether the catalyst was a misunderstanding that Sherman couldn’t hear Girardi’s response as to whether CC Sabathia is healthy or not; if Sherman was intentionally antagonizing Girardi; or if it was simply a matter of frustration boiling over in the midst of an unexpected pennant race and increasingly dire circumstances. Perhaps it was all three.

Details of what was said in Girardi’s office between him and Sherman are unknown. The media circled the wagons around Sherman and, en masse, attacked Girardi.

Unless Sherman or Girardi say what happened, no one can know how much truth there is to the likes of Andrew Marchand saying they were “nose-to-nose”. As disturbing as that image is in and of itself, I seriously doubt that Girardi pulled Marchand aside and said, “Listen Andrew, Joel and I were nose-to-nose.” So the Marchand side of the story is coming from Sherman and Sherman’s not exactly credible when it comes to his supposed dogged reporter tough-guy persona. I think Lara Logan of 60 Minutes could beat him up.

As for the Yankees, here are the facts:

Mark Teixeira was safe

Teixeira was safe in the play at first. It was an atrocious call. But the Yankees can’t complain about a blown call ending a game when part of their historic lore—against the Orioles no less—is that in the 1996 ALCS, a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and snatched a Derek Jeter long fly ball away from right fielder Tony Tarasco.

The Yankees eventually won that game, that series and the World Series, and it’s seen as a seminal moment of their dynasty.

Is there a connection?

No one play wins or loses a game and you can’t have it both ways. There’s no celebrating one play when it goes your way and lamenting a call when it doesn’t.

Umpire Jerry Meals blew the call, but that wasn’t why the Yankees lost.

Should Girardi have argued the call?

He had gotten thrown out of a game in Tampa partially because he thought the pitch in question was not a strike; partially because he was looking to spark his team; and partially because he had a problem with the umpire Tony Randazzo going back to August.

Did it work?

The Yankees are still in a sleepwalk and they lost the game in which he got ejected. Last night’s game was over, so if he’d gone over and started a screaming session with Meals, he’d have gotten kicked out after the game was over, maybe gotten suspended, or the umpires would’ve simply walked away after letting him have his say. As Girardi implied after the game, what good would it have done?

The idea that Girardi is melting down in the pressure of the pennant race would’ve been bolstered by another screaming session with an umpire. As it turned out, that perception was bolstered by his confrontation with Sherman, but he couldn’t have known that was coming at the time of the Teixeira call.

There’s a difference between a manager imploding and acting out and getting ejected to help the team. Lou Piniella, his face the color of an eggplant, wasn’t always that angry when arguing a call. As managers and coaches sometimes need to be, Piniella is an actor. Many times a made-for-TV Piniella base-tossing show was done to loosen up his team, get them laughing in the dugout at what a raving lunatic he is, and possibly relax them to play better.

Then there’s the Billy Martin-style nervous breakdown type argument. A recent example of a manager coming undone with his team in contention in two consecutive years is Ned Yost with the 2007-2008 Brewers. In both seasons, Yost was so tight as the season wound down that a guitar could’ve been strummed on his chest. In 2007, he was ejected from 3 games in six days as the Brewers fell out of contention. In 2008, the team was staggering to the finish and blowing a playoff spot after trading for CC Sabathia at mid-season. Yost was fired with 12 games left and the Brewers did the right thing in pulling the trigger.

The confrontation with Sherman

As of this writing this morning, the aforementioned Sherman had been called into Girardi’s office in Baltimore. Presumably they’re going to come to a détente to end lingering bad blood and stop the story from festering.

Sherman had a right to ask the question. Girardi had reason to be annoyed and, given the scrutiny he’s under, was probably going to snap at anyone who asked what he felt was a loaded question designed to get a rise from him. This wasn’t Martin threatening to toss Henry Hecht of the Post into the team whirlpool in 1983. The idea that Girardi and Sherman had to be “separated” is ludicrous. The security personnel probably heard the yelling and stopped Girardi before he got angry enough to hit Sherman, which he 99.9% wouldn’t have done anyway.

The final analysis

The Yankees are not playing well. They’re old. They’re beaten up. They’re collapsing.

These are facts.

Can they save the season? Absolutely. Will they? Not if they keep playing—and especially pitching—like this. It’s not Jerry Meals’s fault; it’s not Joel Sherman’s fault; it’s really not Girardi’s fault. They’re not very good right now. And unless they get any better, they’ll have a mess to clean up on and off the field. As the Mets and Red Sox have proven, it’s not so easy to repair the damage from a collapse. If this continues, the Yankees will learn soon enough.

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Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—National League

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Yesterday I talked about players who could make a difference to contenders down the stretch from the American League. Now let’s look at the National League.

Jason Bay, LF—New York Mets

I know he’s been about as bad as bad can possibly be and is owed $19 million next year, but if someone gets him out of New Yor…I’m sorry. I thought I could get through it and make myself sound convincing. But I can’t.

It was worth a try.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

K-Rod was awful after he took over for John Axford as Brewers’ closer and it was his poor performances against the Phillies in helping blow two games that led to the Brewers tossing in the towel on the season and trading Zack Greinke. But he’s a veteran who’s got post-season experience and is a free agent at the end of the season. A contending team could get him for nothing. I’ve thought for awhile that he’d wind up back with the Angels and it’s still a fit.

Alfonso Soriano, LF—Chicago Cubs

The speculation has already started up again that the Giants would be a landing spot for Soriano now that Melky Cabrera has been suspended for 50 games for using a banned substance. Soriano can still hit the ball out of the park and the change to a new venue and a contending team could wake him up. Soriano’s owed $36 million in 2013-2014, so the Cubs would have to pay a chunk of it. They probably would to get him out of town and get a decent prospect or two.

Wesley Wright, LHP—Houston Astros

He’s a lefty specialist who’s held lefty bats to a .221/.295/.314 slash line with 30 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. I can’t see the Astros being too demanding in trading him.

J.J. Putz, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are 5 ½ games out of first place in the NL West behind both the Giants and Dodgers; they can forget about the Wild Card with the Braves rolling the way they are and the Pirates, Cardinals and one of the two teams in their division still fighting for one of the two extra playoff spots. Putz has a $6.5 million club option with a $1.5 million buyout. David Hernandez will be closing for the D-Backs next year and they’re not going to pick up Putz’s option. It makes sense to trade him and save that buyout money while getting a prospect or two from a contender, which they are not.

Luke Gregerson, RHP—San Diego Padres

The Padres aren’t selling. In fact, they’ve signed several players who might’ve been available—Huston Street, Carlos Quentin, Mark Kotsay (?)—to contract extensions; but they reportedly offered Gregerson to the Mets for Daniel Murphy. I’ve always liked Gregerson and if he’s available, he can help someone. I doubt they’re trading him though. He’s under team control for two more seasons.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Colorado Rockies

Betancourt could help multiple teams a great deal as a set-up man, but the Rockies haven’t shown the willingness to make any trades of their veterans and with the change in the power structure from Dan O’Dowd as the GM to Bill Geivett taking charge of the big league operation, it’s still unclear as to what’s going on in Colorado. I doubt they’ll do anything significant until the season’s over. Betancourt is signed for 2013 with a reasonable option for 2014 and unless an interested team gets crazy with an offer, they’re not moving him.

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