MLB Reality Check: Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford

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Rumormongers are pushing the idea that either the Red Sox are trying to get rid of both Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford or that there are teams that have interest in acquiring either. Such talk has implied that the Braves and Rangers would have interest in Beckett; and that there was a discussion of Crawford going to the Marlins in a deal for the since-traded Hanley Ramirez.

Forget it. All of it.

Here’s your reality check and it has nothing to do with Beckett’s 10 and 5 status and the right to block any trade. Beckett has been mediocre at best and despite his post-season resume as a big game pitcher and that a divorce between the Red Sox and Beckett would benefit both sides immensely, no team is giving the Red Sox any prospects for Beckett unless the Red Sox provide some serious salary relief for the remaining $31.5 million on Beckett’s deal for 2013-2014 (along with whatever he’s owed for the last two months of this season). The combination of the way he’s pitched and his reputation as a bad clubhouse guy make it very possible that the Red Sox will just about give him away after the season.

He’s going nowhere right now.

Crawford and the Red Sox need to get away from each other as well, but Crawford’s contract pays him over $100 million from 2013-2017. On top of that, the Red Sox and Crawford are all but waiting for his elbow to blow out so he can get the reconstructive surgery he needs. Short of taking Vernon Wells for him and tossing in a chunk of money, where’s he going? Who’s taking him before he’s proven to be healthy?

No one.

Neither player is going anywhere.

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Where Do the Marlins Go From Here?

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This Marlins group is not a “team”. It’s a glued together collection of individuals whose mutual interests—of the front office and players—mixed together to create a toxic mess that’s being dismantled as hastily as it was built. A plan that changes when it doesn’t reap immediate dividends is not a plan at all and with the decision to start clearing the decks and apparently listen to offers for anyone and everyone on the roster, where they go from here is unclear.

It began yesterday with the Marlins trading righty starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to the Tigers for three youngsters including top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, catcher Rob Brantly and lefty pitcher Brian Flynn.

Turner, the 9th overall pick in the 2009 draft, appeared to have fallen out of favor with the Tigers and his status moved from untouchable to gone, but he’s only 21, has a great curve and a prototypical pitcher’s body. The Marlins have gotten torched in dealing for Tigers’ prospects before as Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin didn’t pan out after they were acquired in the Miguel Cabrera trade, but Turner is more polished than Miller was.

Sanchez is a free agent at the end of the season and, when he’s on, is very difficult to hit. He’s had a history of arm problems that he’s overcome in recent years and is going to be more of an immediate help to the Tigers than Turner. Infante is a reliable veteran who plays good defense at second base and has some pop.

Getting Turner is a positive for the Marlins, but does this signal a housecleaning? The construction of the 2012 Marlins wasn’t about putting the best possible pieces in place, but about buying stuff to stick in their gaudy new home. Like the impulse purchases of an instant millionaire, aesthetic and functionality were placed on the backburner in the interest of generating headlines. They needed a manager who was going to spark buzz and had a history of winning? Trade for Ozzie Guillen. They needed a closer? Heath Bell’s out there and he’s a closer. Let’s sign him. They needed a third baseman? Sign Jose Reyes and move Hanley Ramirez to third base. They needed starting pitching? Sign Mark Buehrle and trade for Carlos Zambrano.

It’s simple in the George Steinbrenner sense and actually sometimes works. It did for the 1970s Yankees and the 1997 Marlins, among others. But it’s also failed as it did with the 1980s Yankees and the 1992 Mets.

Who knows what would’ve happened this season had Guillen not caused an immediate uproar by fulfilling his mandate by ranting (mostly incoherently) to draw attention and idiotically said that he admired a loathsome figure in the Miami area, Fidel Castro? If they’d made sure Ramirez was onboard with the move to third base and was committed to being a Marlin, playing hard every day and behaving himself? If Logan Morrison spent as much time concentrating on playing and not expressing his freedom of speech rights on Twitter? If Zambrano was, as Guillen apparently expected, reachable to a countryman and friend who knew him well?

There’s no room for wouldas, shouldas and couldas with the Marlins. Owner Jeffrey Loria and the baseball people act quickly when they’re building and demolishing so this concept of being ready and willing to talk about the entire roster is not foreign to them. The attendance at their new ballpark is 12th in the National League. They’re not cohesive nor do they appear to like each other very much. It’s understandable to give up on the season and try something else, but what is there to try? Who stays and who goes? And what’s going on in the heads of the free agent signees Reyes and Buehrle? They presumably had it in mind that the Marlins couldn’t care less about promises they may or may not have made at contract time and that the organization will dispatch them at a moment’s notice, sending them to live out the remaining time on their deals in a locale that they wouldn’t have chosen on their own. They signed with the Marlins knowing their history and they have to deal with the fallout.

As rapidly as this was tossed together, it’s being taken apart with the only question being where they go from here. Since it changes so rapidly and without remorse or introspection, I don’t think anyone can provide an answer because not even the Marlins know.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—American League

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If you read the mainstream sites and clearing houses of “rumors”, you’ll see that at any given time approaching the July 31st deadline there are around 30 different trades with 50+ players that are supposedly being discussed. The problem is the majority of the purveyors of this sludge claim to have “inside information”. But it’s always the same players going to 10 different places, staying put, signing contracts or whatever other fiction they can come up with and it’s done to accumulate webhits and play you for a fool. Most of it is garbage. It’s probably wise to just ignore the “rumors” that pop up since most of them are formulated based on search engine analysis and have little-to-no basis in fact.

Let’s have a logical look at players that are or might be available along with predictions of where they’ll end up or if they won’t be traded at all. The teams listed are sellers, possible sellers or those who are willing or have the need to do something drastic. The National League will be posted at another time.

Tampa Bay Rays

James Shields, RHP—He won’t be traded mid-season unless a team gets desperate and offers 2-3 legit prospects to get him. He’s signed through 2014 and the Rays are still in contention. I do believe he’ll eventually be traded, but it won’t be until the winter.

Wade Davis, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Boston Red Sox

Kelly Shoppach, C—He’ll get traded in an “if this, then that” deal meaning if the Red Sox have to trade someone from the current roster to improve the starting rotation, they’ll trade Shoppach simultaneously to fill the created hole.

He’ll end up with the Mets.

Carl Crawford, LF—No one’s taking that contract now. They’ll try to deal him after the season to free money to sign Jacoby Ellsbury long-term and might find a taker if Crawford’s healthy and plays well over the final 2 months. Both Crawford and the Red Sox seem to realize that it would be best if the sides parted. The Red Sox signing him was a mistake; Crawford signing in Boston was a mistake.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Since the media created a ridiculous rumor out thin air that would’ve sent Crawford to the Marlins for Heath Bell and Hanley Ramirez, I’ve got one of my own (only not ridiculous). If they’re going to get rid of Beckett, they’ll have to take a similar contract in return. Beckett is owed $31.5 million through 2014. If the Marlins are desperate to get rid of Bell, how about Bell, Anibal Sanchez and Randy Choate for Beckett?

I’m sure Bell and Bobby Valentine would get along about as well as Valentine and Kevin Youkilis. Or Valentine and anyone else. Which is to say not well. At all.

Toronto Blue Jays

Yunel Escobar, SS—Escobar may have irritated his way out of another venue and the Dodgers need a shortstop. For some reason, the Blue Jays fancy themselves as contenders and need pitching.

Kansas City Royals

Jeff Francoeur, OF—He was with the Rangers when they went to the World Series in 2010 and if he was a defensive replacement for the Nelson Cruz in the 2011 series, they would’ve won. Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan won’t forget that.

Bruce Chen, LHP—They’re not going to trade him.

Jonathan Broxton, RHP—His strikeout numbers are down, but he’s had a solid comeback season as a closer. The cross-state Cardinals need bullpen help.

Jose Mijares, LHP—Everyone needs an extra lefty. The Dodgers are ready to buy.

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau, 1B—They haven’t made clear that they’re going to trade him, but if he goes I say—and have said for months—that he goes to the Dodgers.

Josh Willingham, OF—They’re not trading him.

Denard Span, CF—They’re not trading him.

Francisco Liriano, LHP—He’s in heavy demand and can start or relieve. The Yankees have long coveted him and could use him in either role.

Carl Pavano, RHP—He’s back in his office (the disabled list). He won’t be back in time to be dealt at the deadline, but he’ll get through waivers in August and wind up somewhere. The Red Sox will take him for nothing.

Oakland Athletics

Grant Balfour, RHP; Kurt Suzuki, C—The A’s can’t justify dumping salary while they’re hovering around contention. They’re not making the playoffs and are playing over their heads, but they’re playing well and moving anyone for reasons other than to improve the team is not feasible.

Seattle Mariners

Jason Vargas, LHP—Once the bigger names come off the board, Vargas is a viable back-of-the-rotation starter who’s relatively cheap and under team control through 2013. The Braves do lots of yapping about being in on “big” names like Zack Greinke, then wind up trading for a Vargas-type.

Felix Hernandez, RHP—They’re not trading him.

Brandon League, RHP—League is a mediocre reliever, but throws hard and has been unlucky this season. The Giants are always interested in improving their bullpen.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—What happened to this guy? The only thing I can see as possible is if the Angels are so desperate to get rid of Vernon Wells that they pick up the difference in the two contracts and send Wells to Seattle to get Figgins back. He was a very good player for the Angels.

Kevin Millwood, RHP—I’d probably prefer the veteran Millwood to Vargas. He’s been serviceable this season and has post-season experience. The Cardinals need some starting pitching.

Ichiro Suzuki, RF—According to GM Jack Zduriencik, Ichiro (.264/.290/.358) is still a “franchise” player. Jack Z can start cleaning out his office. Someone would take Ichiro, but evidently he’s not available. This is how teams that lose 90+ games for four straight years are built and maintained!

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Oswalt Overkill and Desperation

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In the category of unsubstantiated rumors of the day, the Angels are supposedly the “frontrunners” for fussy free agent righty Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox are thinking about moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

Or not in both cases.

If there’s a grain of truth in the rumors, they’re connected to one another in what should happen.

Of course that has nothing to do with what will happen.

First, with the Angels and Oswalt, do the Angels need another name starter? Are they going to use whatever money it costs—even if the template for Oswalt’s contract is the Andy Pettitte deal with the Yankees—to bolster an overwhelming strength in the starting rotation?

With an innings-eating front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana, the Angels will be perfectly fine with Jerome Williams (who pitched quite well last season) as their fifth starter. In spite of the acquisition of Albert Pujols and what appears to be an overabundance of bats with too few positions to go around, the offense is still shaky with Vernon Wells a black hole; Bobby Abreu whining his way out of town; and the unknown of Kendrys Morales.

As of right now, the only true offensive guarantee they have is Pujols.

The bullpen may need boosting during the season as well. Are they intent on spending the money they have left now on a player they really don’t need in Oswalt?

Why?

Oswalt’s had multiple injuries in recent years and wouldn’t be ready to pitch until May.

And they don’t need him.

It makes no sense.

On the other hand, there’s one destination that makes sense for Oswalt, where he would be a need and not overkill—the Red Sox.

Another rumor that made the rounds this weekend (and was only reported as a possibility in one place—link) is that the Red Sox have seen enough of Bard in the starting rotation and he’ll be shifted back to the bullpen.

There are numerous possibilities surrounding this revelation if it’s true. The Red Sox could be dropping a rock into the water to see the ripples it causes in the public and media; perhaps they wanted to pressure Bard into pitching better in his next start (which was yesterday) after the story came out. His results were similar to what he’s done all spring—not particularly good—but manager Bobby Valentine made it a point to say he liked Bard’s demeanor better than he had in prior starts.

What that means for the future is anyone’s guess.

The Red Sox are not in a position to be putting Bard back in the bullpen. If they do that and move Alfredo Aceves to the starting rotation, they’ll be trading one problem for another. Aceves is not durable enough to be a 180-200 inning starter and he’s too valuable and versatile in the bullpen to start. If they determine that Bard can’t start, their only real option is Oswalt. Apart from that, they’re going to be in bigger trouble that I thought. And bear in mind that I picked them to go 81-81 this year. If Bard is unable to be at least a serviceable starter and they’re relegated to using castoffs in the number 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, they’re in trouble. A lot of it.

Oswalt would be their only choice and the same issues that make him a questionable fit for the Angels would make him a desperation shot for the Red Sox. If they continue down this line of thought, desperation might be all they have left.

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Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

If anyone has already purchased the book and noticed there were formatting mistakes, they’ve been fixed and republished; so you can re-download the book.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Dale Sveum Didn’t Need A Second Interview; Albert Pujols’s Tax Haven

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Believe half of what you see in general and a quarter (at most) of what you see in the world of baseball rumors and innuendo.

Days ago, it was said that Brewers hitting coach (and former interim manager who ran the team in the 2008 playoffs) Dale Sveum would not receive a second interview to manage the Chicago Cubs; the natural inference would be that he’s not getting the job.

That’s what I thought.

But as it turns out, the Cubs didn’t give Sveum a second interview because he was their guy and is going to be the new manager.

It’s a good choice. Sveum handled a very difficult situation when he took over for Ned Yost in the last two weeks of the 2008 season as the Brewers were in the midst of a collapse; he cast a stoic and serious face and accepted that he wasn’t getting the full-time job after the season, went back to being the hitting coach under Ken Macha and Ron Roenicke and acted like a true professional.

The Cubs made a good choice.

The Marlins offer to Albert Pujols is reported to be for 9-years and for fewer dollars than the Cardinals offer.

Ordinarily the obvious response would be, “why would he want to leave the world champion Cardinals to go to the dysfunctional Marlins for less money?”, but if the Marlins are making an offer that’s somewhere close to the Cardinals offer and the state of Florida is offering the benefit of no state income tax, then the deal might end up putting more money in Pujols’s bank account.

It’s not going to work, but it’s not as ridiculous a concept as it seems on the surface. It might be done with a pretense on the part of the Marlins to make it look like they’re doing something when they have no intention of signing Pujols, but there’s a viability to the offer…if it’s close to what the Cardinals offer was.

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McKeon And The Marlins; Beane And The Cubs

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Jack McKeon‘s future.

It feels strange to talk about the future of someone who’s 81, but Marlins manager Jack McKeon has dismissed a report that a decision has been made as to whether he’s going to manage the next year.

I can say right now that he’s not going to manage next year.

The Marlins need to move on with someone else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a manager who’s 35. There are veteran coaches like Pete Mackanin who deserve a chance and have acquitted themselves well in brief, interim shots at the main job. John Gibbons would be a good choice for a young team that needs discipline and someone who doesn’t take crap.

That’s similar to McKeon except McKeon can’t (I don’t think) beat them up if they step totally out of line; Gibbons can.

There have been the oft-mentioned names affiliated with the Marlins like Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine as well.

Suffice it to say it won’t be McKeon.

I was against the McKeon hiring because I didn’t think it would work. The team’s played about as poorly under McKeon as they did under Edwin Rodriguez; the discipline issues—on and off the field—haven’t really been eliminated either. It remains to be seen whether the tough love shown to Logan Morrison among others will yield the results they want.

McKeon sounds agreeable to managing for a full year in 2012, but he’s not going to get the chance.

Please call…please call…

Like the once popular teenage boy whose reputation was crafted and has been undone by reality, Billy Beane has done everything but send a video of himself in a Cubs hat celebrating the future championship he’s going to win for Tom Ricketts and the long-suffering fans on the North Side of Chicago.

Speculation is rampant and clearly planted with an agenda as in pieces like this by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Multiple high-ranking A’s officials” have said the Cubs have yet to contact Beane. These are strategic leaks and they’re clearly done with between-the-lines statements from people involved with Beane that he wants out of Oakland and is after the Cubs job.

Beane wants the Cubs, but do the Cubs want Beane?

I say yes. And that’s where he’s going.

Results of the marriage pending.

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MLB Trade Deadline Stories 7.22.2011

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I don’t do rumormongering just for the sake of it; everything here is my own speculation as to what makes sense and/or analysis of what’s being said.

Of course “sense”, “logic” and “reality” often has little to do with what’s presented as a story.

Let’s take a look.

Keeping Izzy.

I don’t buy the “Mets are not trading Jason Isringhausen” stuff. If it’s August and the team has faded, he should be on the table.

But only if it makes sense.

Unless they’re offered something that the Mets really like (and it won’t be a top prospect), they’re not getting a lot for a pitcher who’s likely to retire at the end of the year and has had multiple arm problems. And the concept of Isringhausen mentoring the younger pitchers who are going to get a shot at closing—Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato among them—is legitimate.

In 2006, it was Isringhausen who guided Adam Wainwright through the unfamiliar terrain of moving from a career starter in the minors and long reliever in the majors as a rookie, to being a post-season closer.

It worked out pretty well for the Cardinals in the long and short term as Wainwright helped them to a championship, then slotted into the rotation as one of the best pitchers in baseball who had a post-season pedigree for getting the big outs.

If Isringhausen can impart similar wisdom for the Mets, he’d be more valuable than any low-level minor leaguer they’d get in a trade.

Mariners awful stretch shouldn’t detract from the positives of 2011.

A year ago, the Mariners were 38-60 after 98 games; this year after a 12-game losing streak, they’re 43-55.

They were considering being buyers at the trading deadline before that losing streak, but now they’ve fallen essentially to where they were expected to be before the season.

That doesn’t mean it’s all negative.

Last season, the team was in absolute disarray on-and-off the field with poor behaviors, a lack of respect for the manager and shady dealings in trades.

They were a disaster.

Now with Eric Wedge bringing order in the clubhouse and young players Dustin Ackley (who reminds me of Chase Utley—a very good thing) and Michael Pineda arriving on the scene, there are positives now where there were few a year ago beyond Felix Hernandez.

They still have one of the worst offenses I’ve ever seen and are saddled with Chone Figgins‘s onerous contract and Ichiro Suzuki—two collapsing singles hitters are owed a combined $34 million.

They still have a lot of work to do and a lot of dead money to subtract.

They’re not close to contending, but even as they spiral towards 95 losses again, it’s not as all-around bad as it was in 2010.

In a way, it’s progress.

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