Why was the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline so different from the past?

MiLB, MLB, MLB Trade Deadline

Cashman pic

The 2019 MLB Trade Deadline was radically different from how it was in the past.

There are several factors that factored in with this peculiar turn of events. Certain teams illustrated this more than others.

Yankees

General manager Brian Cashman is getting scorched for his failure to act. At his press conference, he made reasonable sense as to why he didn’t trade for a prominent starter or reliever. Still, “reasonable sense” is not what made the Yankees so alluring to fans around the world. They won a lot and that will certainly draw attention; but there was always action going on. Now, instead of getting the biggest available names who fit their blatant needs and surrendering the prospects necessary to do so, Cashman again cuddled his prospects, many of whom are quietly being described as overrated.

Ignoring whether this is a wise course of action or not, the fundamental reality is that the Yankees of the Steinbrenner offspring are not the same as the Yankees of the Steinbrenner patriarch. George Steinbrenner would not have wanted to hear about Deivi Garcia if he was all that was standing in the way of getting the caliber of starting pitcher that would have made his team the favorites to win the World Series. This, more than any baseball operations philosophy, is why the Yankees have become so passive to the point of appearing impotent.

Arguing that their injured list with Luis Severino and Dellin Betances rehabbing provides them with two “acquisitions” is theoretically sensible, but it’s also Met-like – one that rarely yields the result the team expects. By now, it is wise not to expect anything from either and the Yankees know that.

The current Steinbrenner ownership does not have the unquenchable thirst to win and dominate that George Steinbrenner did. It wants to win, sure. But it’s not fanatical and desperate. Their desire to win is folded in with advancing the brand. Instead of a World Series-or-bust attitude, they’re content to be contenders, have a chanceto win a championship while understanding the vagaries that go into that result, and do not overreact when it is unsuccessful.

The Boss might have understood all this in a rational sense (or he might not have), but his rage inevitably took over and he reacted by firing people, signing free agents, trading for stars and doing something. That is not to imply that capricious brutality is preferable to wise conservatism, but there needs to be nuance. There wasn’t and these Yankees did nothing.

Having cost control with a respectable farm system and flexibility is great, but it is not the Yankee way. It’s the way of the game itself in 2019 and the Yankees in their years of dominance never adhered to what everyone else was doing. They were trendsetters and everyone wanted to play for them. If other teams couldn’t keep up? Too bad.

While shunning Bryce Harper and Manny Machado made financial sense, it might have had a hidden cost in that players are no longer looking toward the Yankees as their ideal destination. If they’re going to treat it as a cruel business, so are we. In retrospect, the Yankees were right to avoid both on the field, but it could have had a radical aftereffect in the greater context.

Hal Steinbrenner has been conscious of payroll and Cashman was a willing cohort as both got what they wanted. Steinbrenner has the immediately recognizable and financially lucrative brand; Cashman gets to show the baseball bona fides that eluded him when he inherited the late 1990s dynasty and bought his way to maintaining contending status. He rebuilt the team and is now perceived in a category with Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman and Jeff Lunhow as an architect. Yet the last championship in 2009 came after a half-billion-dollar spending spree.

Every team ownership in New York has been hammered for its faults. The Yankees have largely been shielded from that. However, Steinbrenner expressed his willingness to go beyond the luxury tax and in trading prospects to get what the Yankees needed.

And they didn’t do it.

Was this Cashman? Did Steinbrenner leave it to the baseball people to decide on cost effectiveness? Or was there a wink and nod with Steinbrenner knowing Cashman would “do the right thing” while they made statements to quell rising fan apprehension?

Put it this way: George Steinbrenner would have told Cashman to get pitching and he didn’t care what it cost. Hal Steinbrenner didn’t.

Padres

General manager AJ Preller has been there for five years and they have achieved absolutely nothing concrete. It’s all about ephemeral prospect rankings and lusty gazes regarding his “outside the box” thinking, aggressiveness, lack of interest in making friends and, in some cases, indifference for adhering to moral and ethical standards.

The latest was acquiring another top prospect, Taylor Trammell in a three-team trade with the Indians and Reds.

Most prognosticators love Trammell and he adds to the Padres’ already strong farm system. But when does the transition from rebuild to trying to win take place? There’s a difference between being happy to win and trying to win. There’s no middle ground with Preller. It’s one end of the spectrum with a ridiculous buying spree like in 2014-2015 or the rebuild where he burned the organization to the ground not with a controlled demolition, but arson. There’s the signing of Eric Hosmer; there’s the trading of Brad Hand; there’s the signing of Manny Machado; there’s the trading of Franmil Reyes; there’s the pursuit of Noah Syndergaard.

Which is it? When does this reach its conclusion? Or is this the conclusion?

Maybe “What is he doing?” is the strategy. Always maintain a plausible deniability that he’s failing. This is year five of the rebuild and they’re 20 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and in “if we have a hot streak” contention for the Wild Card.

The spin from Preller’s first offseason as Padres GM in which he gutted the system he inherited and traded for and signed name players and then pivoted to an ongoing full-blown rebuild happened within his first year on the job. While his system has received laudatory and even beatific praise since then, he is still doing the zigzag of willingness to trade anyone and everyone while simultaneously adding the likes of Hosmer and Machado on big money contracts.

There seems to be a total disregard for actual results, replaced by a reliance on prospect rankings that, one must remember, are completely exterior from baseball front offices!If that obnoxious, arrogant buffoon Keith Law ranks a prospect number 10 in baseball, that does not mean he’s judged the same way by those who are making the actual decisions. It’s a moneymaker. It’s clickbait. Just as there is no award for winning the winter championship, there’s no tangible award for having the best farm system as ranked by some guy.

There is a benefit, though. If and when Preller’s bosses say enough’s enough and ask when the team will start show success on the field, he can point to the praise and prospect rankings and promote it as progress when it is contextually meaningless. When does the plan come to fruition? Year seven? Year nine?

It’s beginning to take the tone of a flimflam man with a modicum of competence who has tricked a wide swath of people and inspired a Manson-like loyalty sans criticism for fear of inundation from his indoctrinated loyalists.

Astros

GM Jeff Luhnow spots vulnerability and compounds that with a willingness to act. Comparing owner Jim Crane to George Steinbrenner is unfair in terms of temperament and overreaction, but not in terms of the hunger to win.

The Astros had several irons in the fire to acquire starting pitching, but would not surrender what the Mets were asking for to get either Zack Wheeler or Syndergaard – namely Kyle Tucker. Then they spun around, gave up a big haul of prospects to the Diamondbacks to get Zack Greinke (not including Tucker or Forrest Whitley) and suddenly the Yankees were KO’d with a shot they did not see coming.

Contrary to the immediate overreaction, this does not mean the Astros are guaranteed a World Series win. In a short series, anything can and usually does happen. But Luhnow’s willingness to deal while still retaining his untouchable prospects is unique. Other teams – like the Padres with Preller – are not simply looking to improve, they’re looking to screw you while they do it. Luhnow will give up value for value. And if it doesn’t make sense, he doesn’t do it.

Once this window of contention begins to close, he won’t patch it with duct tape. He’ll clean house before anyone expects or advocates it and start all over again. That’s why the Astros are where they are.

Mets

Finally, the Mets were caught in the middle of “what are they doing?” with “why are they doing it?”

It’s unlikely that GM Brodie Van Wagenen thinks the Mets are legitimate contenders in 2019. But they’re not at the point where it makes sense to clean out the entire house either. Edwin Diaz and Syndergaard were bandied about in trade talks. Wheeler, a pending free agent, was all but guaranteed to go. Yet they stayed.

With Syndergaard, there was zero point in trading him unless the Mets got exactly what they wanted. For Wheeler, the cost-benefit hinged on comparing the acquisition of prospects to what they will get with the draft pick compensation after making the qualifying offer following this season, re-signing Wheeler or in the unlikely event he accepts the QO.

It’s important to remember that Van Wagenen manipulated the entire MLB Draft to get Matthew Allan – a consensus top-20 talent who fell because he was expected to attend college – at the approximate spot where they’ll get the compensatory pick if Wheeler rejects the QO.

With their recent hot streak that has gotten them within striking distance of a Wild Card and that they added Marcus Stroman to the rotation giving them a devastating starting five of Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman, Wheeler and Steven Matz, and there was no urgency to trade anyone. This rotation is tantamount to the “big five” the Mets had long touted as their future with Matt Harvey replacing Stroman, but the Mets only cycled that group once and it was for sentimental “what might have been?” reasons as Harvey was immediately jettisoned after it happened.

As for adding to the bullpen, trading Diaz and adding a few names would have been shuffling the same cards. There’s no guarantee the relievers they acquired would handle New York any better than Diaz; would adjust to the set-up role as Jeurys Familia has not. Rather than change for its own sake, it was better to get Stroman, retain what they had and hope the mediocrity of the National League and improved performances from their own players worked for the rest of 2019 and they could retool for 2020.

***

Teams are no longer passively letting Trevor Bauer and Stroman get traded to obvious contenders, deferring to those whose need is more pronounced and holding their chips – and the good will with their peers – for when they need the help.

The new rule that prevents trades after July 31 had a greater impact than expected. Teams were aware they could not wait out the likes of Justin Verlander and other star players whose contracts likely precluded an August waiver claim meaning they would be eligible to be traded after the “deadline” that was not a hard deadline. Now, it is a hard deadline. Now, the decision as to whether a team was a legitimate contender, a nominal contender, a non-contender or “wait ‘til next year (or, in the case of the Padres, the next-next year; or the next-next-next year), or a team that has surrendered and is adhering to a “plan” is harder to make with any certainty.

There was still a flurry of activity, but much of it was surprising in that the usual suspects who are aggressive in filling holes – the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Red Sox – were quiet. Teams that are not close enough to first place to warrant a buying spree to go for it still made moves that were in part for 2019, but were largely done for 2020. “Sellers” were few and far between as most clubs have shunned the gutting rebuild and tanking, preferring to lean toward a moderate attempt at respectability and maybe even a lightning strike playoff run. Even teams that were willing to sell big pieces added similarly big pieces before deciding to stand pat. This is better for the game, not worse.

The Giants’ rebuild hits a snag: They’re winning

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades

Bumgarner pic

When the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi away from the Dodgers to replace Brian Sabean as the head of baseball operations, they did not do it to maintain the status quo. The Giants were long one of the main holdouts for the old-school way of running an organization, eschewing a deep dive into statistics as the final determinative factor in procuring and retaining players. It certainly worked for them with three World Series titles in five years starting in 2010.

However, the Giants are an organization that knows which way the wind is blowing – perhaps a lingering aftereffect of Candlestick Park – and moved away from the Sabean/Bruce Bochy line of thought and into the same environment which has built and maintained the Bay Area cohabitants the Athletics as well as the Dodgers, which were the two organizations Zaidi worked for before heading to San Francisco.

While the Giants did not go the route of the full teardown as the Cubs and Astros did under Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow respectively (and successfully), Zaidi has not concealed his intentions. Over the winter, the most recognizable names the Giants acquired were Pat Venditte (the switch-pitcher), Drew Pomeranz and Gerardo Parra. These were not moves to radically improve a 90-loss team and they definitely were not designed to close the gap with the Dodgers. They were done for veteran competence and players who might yield a prospect or two at the deadline.

If this were the defending champion Giants or the “we’re going for it” Giants, these are reasonable, role players to add to a championship mix. For a club that finished 64-98 in 2017 and 73-89 in 2018, the latter with a payroll of $200 million, sticking to the admittedly successful blueprint from the past was cannibalizing and foolish. Had the Giants wanted that, they would not have gone so far in the opposite direction from Sabean’s methods to Zaidi’s.

There’s a fine line between trying to lose and not caring about losing. The Cubs and Astros, during their rebuilds, “tanked.” They were not “throwing” games, but the teams were so terrible that losing was a natural byproduct of the terribleness of those rosters. This relatively new phenomenon is not all that new. Upon informing Ralph Kiner that he had been traded to the Cubs, Pirates GM Branch Rickey famously told him that they finished last with him and could finish last without him. The idea gained prominence with the Devil Rays/Rays under current Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman by ostensibly saying, “We’re gonna lose anyway, so what’s the difference between losing 90 and 100?”

The Astros and Cubs took it to its logical conclusion and were positioned to do so with the new heads of baseball ops inheriting bloated contracts, dead farm systems, a history of failure and owners willing to hand the keys to them because there was no history to protect and nothing to lose.

The Giants had played poorly; the players who comprised the foundation for those championships were getting old and underperforming; and the template had run its course. Add in that the National League West housed Zaidi’s old team, the Dodgers, and they had exacted a dominance over the division that the Giants could not come near without radical changes to the structure. That radical change was, in short, copying the Dodgers.

In its actions, the Giants tacitly admitted they were moving on from the Bochy/Madison Bumgarner/Buster Posey/Brandon Belt/Brandon Crawford/Pablo Sandoval years – the last remaining residue of the championships.

Manager Bochy’s spring announcement that he planned to retire after the 2019 season put an exclamation point on the organization’s direction. The question as to whether Bochy is really retiring or is being granted the respect to leave on his own terms so Zaidi and his staff can hire a manager whose thinking corresponds with theirs will be answered if Bochy takes some time off and then leaks that he’s bored and will listen to offers to manage.

Posey, Belt and Crawford are under contract for the foreseeable future, but if they are not traded, they will be ancillary players who fit in with the scheme rather than the foundation around which the scheme is crafted. With no contract extension forthcoming for Bumgarner, they had essentially said he was going to be traded by the deadline. The only question was where.

Then, from the nadir of their season so far on June 29 when they were 12 games below .500, eight games from a Wild Card spot and ahead of only the Marlins in the overall National League standings, the Giants started winning. In the subsequent three weeks and after Thursday night’s/Friday morning’s 16-inning win over the Mets, the Giants were 13-2 and gained 5.5 games in the Wild Card standings.

This is where it gets complicated. Having this happen so close to the July 31 trade deadline in the season after August trades were eliminated by MLB, the Giants and every other team must decide on what they are and what they want to be. The second Wild Card has opened so many scenarios to make an argument to stand pat that the fans and media will not accept a club punting on a season when there is the remotest possibility of making a run. It takes an experienced and entrenched baseball operations boss plus a willing ownership to do that.

Some teams will take a wait-and-see approach to their midseason status before acting. The Mets fall into that category, but they are not in the same circumstance as the Giants in that they have enough young talent and starting pitching under contract that they can say they’re going to retool and try and win in 2020. Some will disagree with the philosophy and its ambiguity, preferring the resoluteness of “this is what we’re doing, like it or not.”

The Twins were faced with a comparable conundrum in 2017. Having abandoned their longtime method of running things with the “Twins Way,” they fired veteran GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire, mitigated background architect Tom Kelly and moved on with former Cleveland Indians director of baseball operations Derek Falvey as the Twins new chief baseball officer They had lost 103 games the previous year and were not expected to be anything more than, at most, a 90-loss team. Instead, they hovered around contention for the second Wild Card and a likely one-game dismissal by the Yankees or Red Sox if they made the playoffs.

Instead of having the freedom to do what they wanted with a 100-loss team, Falvey and GM Thad Levine were suddenly saddled with trying to make a playoff run when it was inconvenient to their plans; was a waste of time, energy and assets; and hindered rather than helped. So, they vacillated. They made trades to “improve” as the second Wild Card spot played down to them instead of vice versa. They acquired Jaime Garcia for show, and traded Garcia and Brandon Kintzler a week later as a concession…and then still won the second Wild Card that no one in the front office wanted. They got hammered by the Yankees in the playoff game and were then free to continue their rebuild. Still, loitering around contention might have prevented them from maximizing their best tradeable assets Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana and stagnated what they set out to accomplish. It didn’t hurt them significantly as they are currently in first place, but it didn’t help either.

It might be a bit much to say that Zaidi is displeased that the Giants are playing so well, but it does put a wrench in the machine he’s constructing. Certainly, his life would be much easier if they continued that late-June spiral and freed him to gut the place because, what was the difference?

Now, it makes a difference. Could ownership step in and say it’s worth the shot to get into the Wild Card game with Bumgarner pitching it and see what happens? Absolutely.

Would the fans accept trading a team legend when the club is suddenly in the mix to make the playoffs in a weak Wild Card scrum and vulnerable teams – even the Dodgers – leading the respective divisions? They wouldn’t be happy about it even if the Giants and Zaidi extract a ransom for Bumgarner, Will Smith and Crawford and salary relief for Jeff Samardzija.

Given Zaidi’s background, he will still trade Bumgarner at the deadline and ignore this quixotic leap into the playoff conversation. But the Giants’ hot streak has put that decision from the definite category to the maybe category. Retaining Bumgarner and even adding at the deadline is precisely what Sabean would have done, and that is not what Zaidi or the Giants intended when he took the job.

A lesson for the Mets on the manager from none other than Billy Beane

MLB

Manager definition

As the Mets are resistant to do the obvious and relieve manager Mickey Callaway of his duties, it is difficult to know the justification of retaining him.

His salary is minuscule compared to name managers.

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen is under siege himself for roster deficiencies and did not hire Callaway.

The pitching coach and bullpen coach have already been fired with the relievers pitching at least as badly as they did before, if not worse.

Jeff Wilpon is a target of ridicule for his perceived role in this burgeoning debacle.

And even if they do make a change, there’s no guarantee that they will make the obvious and right move in hiring Joe Girardi.

It’s a trendy shield for teams to assert that managers are largely irrelevant to the overall results of a team and most subscribe to it. This protects them from firing people, paying them not to work and avoids caving to public pressure to hire the decreasing number of “proven” managers who are going to demand a big salary and expect autonomy on the field.

With front offices becoming so immersed in every aspect of how a team is run from top to bottom, the line that general managers never crossed no longer exists. Owners regularly crossed that line with calls to the manager’s office with various orders, but they were the owners. Today’s GMs are younger, hungry for attention, convinced that they know better than the emotional and reactive field staff, and do not want anything to sabotage their algorithms of optimal moves.

The days of Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin, Tommy Lasorda, Earl Weaver, Davey Johnson, Dick Williams and Joe Torre – managers in the truest sense of the word with their own belief systems, preferred style of play and personalities – are gone. The preference is to have a disposable, replaceable and faceless automaton who will carry out the orders of the front office, be the public face of the franchise, not deviate from the plan and play the part of manager rather than be the manager. None of those mentioned would even get a managing job today, except in cases where the owner ordered the hiring over protestations of the front office. They would have problems relating to players who expect to be coddled and know they have the power and could not stand the dissection of every single decision they made with public criticisms from an exponential number of outlets who would never be forced to face them in person.

The altered landscape is aptly described at the end of Casino when Robert De Niro as Sam Rothstein laments how times changed with the corporations taking over Las Vegas:

In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it’s checking into an airport. And if you order room service, you’re lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it’s all gone. You get a whale show up with four million in a suitcase, and some twenty-five-year-old school kid is gonna want his Social Security Number.

There’s a clear parallel between this perspective and how baseball teams are run.

Billy Beane is cast as the first GM who was publicly portrayed as running the team from the front office. It was Beane who wanted a manager to follow orders. It was Beane who allowed this desire to be out there for all to see. And it was Beane who repeatedly downplayed the importance of managers by discarding them to be replaced by “another guy.” It didn’t matter who.

When he elevated his close friend Bob Geren to the manager’s chair, the Athletics were embarking on another retooling. Geren was the epitome of mediocrity. A vanilla personality who maintained the same blank look on his face regardless of what was happening around him, he certainly fit the role of “some guy” standing at the corner of the dugout and epitomizing the factotum. The results on the field were just as bland as Geren. Never better than .500; never worse than 12 games below .500. They were blah. He was blah.

Eventually, with players complaining about Geren’s communication failures, the team floundering and – perhaps most importantly – Beane’s image reaching fluke status, Geren was dismissed.

Beane steadfastly refused “name” managers in his previous hires with Ken Macha and Geren. This time, however, he did bring in a known entity in Bob Melvin. This was a tacit admission that the model from which he had been working was not a good one. Still, he clung to the tenets when explaining why he dismissed Geren by ignoring player complaints as though they were irrelevant and blaming the media and the speculation infecting the franchise.

Beane’s actions and the aftermath of those actions do not match the rhetoric and that was clearly intentional. He clung to the narrative while deviating from it making it obvious that he knew the other way was not working and was not going to work with a team that did not have the spending power to put a self-sustaining product on the field.

Whereas Geren did not have the resume to protest Beane’s orders and was known to be one of his closest friends, with whom could the players confide if there were issues with the front office? Who had their backs?

Melvin had two previous jobs as manager. In the first, he inherited Lou Piniella’s Mariners as they were just beginning their downward slide. He won 93 games in his first season and the entire club came apart in his second, losing 99 games. He was fired. The next year, he came in second to Wally Backman for the job to manage the Diamondbacks. When Backman was found to have lied on his job application, he was fired and Melvin took over. After four full seasons including one division title and an NLDS win, he was fired 29 games in to the 2009 season as he resisted front office interference and GM Josh Byrnes famously said he wanted someone who provided “organizational advocacy.” Ironically, the person tabbed to replace Melvin and for whom any chance of success was detonated with those two words as he was viewed as a spy, was AJ Hinch – currently considered one of baseball’s best managers with the Astros.

There is no doubt that Hinch’s experience in Arizona is a reason he is now successful in Houston.

The A’s played better under Melvin after he replaced Geren. Then, the next year, they won the first of back-to-back division titles and made the playoffs in the third year as a Wild Card.

Was it the players? Was it the manager? Was it the front office realizing that maybe it was time to give the manager a bit more freedom and respect than they did before? Was it a combination?

Experience. History. Knowing when to push back against the front office. All are key parts of managing that will never change, especially if the team is not the Yankees or Dodgers and does not have the money and personnel to gloss over a nameless, faceless manager who does what he’s told. For most teams, the season hinges on 15 or 20 games where the manager makes the difference. If he’s losing games due to his ineptitude, then it’s time to make that move to hire a person who has a clue.

It benefits the players to have a manager they respect; one who has a salary large enough that he won’t be dumped just to hire the same guy with a different name and face; one who can speak to the media without sounding as if he’s a hostage reading from a script; and one who will make the decisions he feels are in the team’s best interests in the short and long-term rather than because he was ordered to by guys in suits and polos in the front office suite. Even if the players disagree with the manager, a track record gives a certain amount of leeway. “At least he knows what he’s doing” is as good a reason as any to hire a manager who has done it before.

To continually present the manager’s job as meaningless while maintaining the veneer of an all-powerful and all-knowing front office is cannibalistic and destructive.

So many front offices either don’t understand this or are too paranoid and egomaniacal to admit to any level of weakness. But the players know. It would help if front offices did too. Maybe the Mets will learn this before someone else hires Girardi and they take the first step toward fixing what ails them with the simple act of hiring a manager who knows what the hell he’s doing.

The Nationals firing Lilliquist doesn’t fix their fundamental problem

MLB

Lilliquist pic

The Washington Nationals firing of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist will elicit analysis, qualifications and questions. Most will point to the Nationals’ other flaws and wonder why the pitching coach is the fall guy just before going into a detailed examination as to why the pitching coach should be the fall guy based on their own philosophical bent.

Regardless, there are several justifications to fire a pitching coach, most of which outsiders – including the media and people from other organizations – cannot possibly know if they are valid in this case. In the end, general manager Mike Rizzo has every right to make a change at any level in his organization. If, as he said when the announcement was made, there were flaws and preparation issues and he wanted to bring a new message to the pitchers, then fine.

However, it’s rarely that simple in any case and particularly complicated with the Nationals.

With the hiring of minor-league pitching coordinator Paul Menhart to replace Lilliquist, the easy answer is to have someone more in line with what the front office wants. It’s difficult to understand what the preparation issues were given that the entire pitching staff is comprised of veterans who have their own routines and know their jobs. Their starting pitching has generally been good. The bullpen hasn’t, but that points to decisions Lilliquist did not make. Mistakes and misuse of the pitching staff fall on manager Dave Martinez, and Martinez is going from inexperienced in 2018 to overmatched in 2019 with the same on-field mediocrity. Are they going to point to Trevor Rosenthal as a reason to fire Lilliquist? By that logic, Rizzo needs to go as well.

What’s often missed in today’s world where large factions of baseball observers and analysts function under the impression that an organization is tantamount to any company where there are executives, managers, supervisors and midlevel workers with duties clear and orders adhered to via clearly delineated lines is that it’s not like that in sports. The players pick and choose what they’ll listen to and if they tacitly decide to tune out a manager, a pitching coach or hitting coach, it’s not the players who will go.

To compound that reality, the Nationals are not a young team where the pitchers have little choice but to listen to the pitching coach and follow organizational edicts. What is Lilliquist, Menhart or anyone else past or present going to say to Max Scherzer if Scherzer doesn’t agree or doesn’t want to hear their recommendations? They’re all veterans. They do what they want.

If it’s a change for its own sake, that’s a reason to do it. To think that it will solve what ails the Nationals – and has ailed the Nationals for eight years – is farcical.

There is a new practice of hiring pure outsiders with new theories, deep analytics, recommendations specifically tailored to the individual rather than an overriding philosophy for all. It might be a trend or it might be the new template. Pitching coaches who pitched in the majors or at least in the minors could go the way of the former player advancing to GM. It doesn’t happen anymore. Whether the change is more about controlling the message than it is about what works and what doesn’t is irrelevant. This is how it is.

Often, a pitching coach’s role is to stand there looking contemplative, go to the mound and say some stuff to the struggling pitcher or to give him a breather, and to try to put organizational edicts into action. Like the puppet managers who proliferate baseball today, many old-school pitching coaches with a track record do not want to stay within those increasingly constraining lines.

Had Lilliquist been an aide-de-camp of Martinez, this could be viewed as a clear shot at the manager telling him that he’s next if the team doesn’t turn around in the next month, but the days of the manager-pitching coach being Siamese twins a la Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are over. The front office hires the pitching coach and the manager has limited – if any – say about it. There’s a good chance that Martinez was informed after the decision was made and nothing he said or did would change it.

This is a continuing issue with the Nationals. Since 2012, they have had the most talent in baseball. They spend money like a big market club, make savvy acquisitions and develop young players. But they have yet to advance beyond the Division Series in the years they made the playoffs and have had several seasons in which they were preseason favorites and disappointed terribly as also-rans.

Harping on the Stephen Strasburg shutdown in 2012 might seem passé, but it is a flashpoint as to what has ailed this organization and robbed them of at least two championships they should have won led by Strasburg and Bryce Harper. With Harper gone and a young core led by Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Trea Turner, they should be preparing for the next run. Instead, they’re firing the pitching coach in a largely inconsequential maneuver to serve as a distraction for what truly ails them: a fissure in understanding the importance of the manager and a reluctance to pay that manager and give him at least some say in how the team is handled.

They’re fortunate in one respect: the entire National League East is a wrestling match of flaws and mediocrity. This has allowed them to remain relatively close to the top of the division despite their 13-17 start.

Even if they manage to float to the top in this battle of attrition and make the postseason, what reason is there to believe that 2019 will be any different from the other seasons in which they made the playoffs and were bounced in the first round? It does not necessarily need to be another 82-win season to be categorized as a(nother) failure.

Barring a fundamental change in how they treat their on-field staff, what’s the difference who the manager or pitching coach is? They’re not hiring Joe Girardi to manage the team because he’d want to be paid and would want some influence in running the team. Ownership doesn’t want the former and the baseball ops doesn’t want the latter. Firing the pitching coach is cosmetic and does nothing to repair what ails this team and has ailed them for nearly a decade.

Dallas Keuchel fits for the Mets…after the MLB Draft

MiLB, MLB

Keuchel

Let’s say the Mets do what the fans and media are pushing them to do and simultaneously designate Jason Vargas for assignment and sign Dallas Keuchel within the next five days. That would be around April 17.

Presumably, Keuchel has been throwing regularly and is in reasonable shape. Reasonable shape is not Major League Baseball game shape. So, he’d need to go to extended spring training and then make a few starts in Double and Triple-A. Being conservative but reasonable, say he’s ready by May 5 and joins the starting rotation on or around that date.

The MLB Draft is June 3. The Mets would get, at most, five starts from Keuchel prior to the draft. Is it worth the total cost? What are the Mets sacrificing and what are they getting?

Here’s the applicable rule regarding a free agent in Keuchel’s position from MLB.com:

A team that neither exceeded the luxury-tax threshold in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing will lose its second-highest selection in the following year’s Draft, as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its third-highest remaining pick and an additional $500,000.

The Keuchel contract is secondary and is not the issue. The issue is that the Mets would be surrendering a draft pick to sign him. They would also be giving up $500,000 in the increasingly valuable international spending money.

The same people who called the Mets shortsighted or outright stupid for trading 2018’s sixth overall pick Jarred Kelenic as the centerpiece of the deal to get Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz are screaming that the Mets “all-in for 2019” justification means they should continue that trend by sacrificing a relatively high pick and that international money to get someone who is a stylistically similar pitcher to the one he’s replacing.

It cannot be ignored that the pick they’re surrendering by such a move is in the same general vicinity of where they selected Pete Alonso – another subject about which the media and fans engaged in intense and mostly ignorant debate of how best to handle his service time and whether he should have been demoted for the first two weeks of the season to save a year of team control.

Alonso’s performance aside, the Mets and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said it would be the best 25 players making the roster. In spring training, Alonso was one of the best 25 players. He made the roster. Everything else is noise. The damage that would have been done not just to Alonso, but to Van Wagenen as he tries to establish himself in his nascent new career as a GM, might have been worse than that extra year of team control that could end up being irrelevant.

There is a limited percentage of fans and media members who want to hear or accept these fundamental realities no matter how fact-based they are. Fewer will want to hear the next fundamental reality that Keuchel, despite being five years younger and far more decorated, is essentially the same type of pitcher as Vargas.

Not the same, but the same type.

He’s touch and feel; will not blow anyone away; needs a solid defense behind him; and if he’s not hitting his spots, he’ll get pummeled.

Sure, Keuchel’s velocity is a few miles superior to that of Vargas, but we’re not talking about 94 to 97. We’re talking 86 to 89 – numbers that make it imperative that both are hitting their spots and have sufficient differential between the fastball and changeup so both can be effective.

They’re not the same, but are similar enough to pause before immediately thinking the problem will be fixed by replacing one with the other.

The arguments for Keuchel are not based on Keuchel himself, per se and those aggressively pushing for him to be signed if not openly demanding it are using an argument that is not based on the same objective facts they purport to use via sabermetrics, but are that of a reactive sports talk caller, delusional blogger or Twitter lunatic.

After the draft, there will be greater competition for Keuchel’s services and he will likely end up elsewhere. But by then, the Mets’ situation and needs will be far clearer than they are now. Perhaps whomever takes Vargas’s spot in the rotation – Corey Oswalt, Hector Santiago, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo or by using “the opener” – will have a body of work to make an informed decision if one needs to be made at all and they’ll have their draft pick and international bonus money.

The real competition in the National League in general and the National League East particularly will be known. Teams might throw in the towel on the season and make arms available – arms who were not projected to be available on April 14, two weeks into the season.

The Mets can use Keuchel, but it’s not make or break for their season. The cost is not worth it. Not now, anyway.

Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees – Book Review

Books, MLB

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It would be a stretch to compare Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees to a piece by Leni Riefenstahl mirroring content usually produced and presented on the Yankees’ state-sanctioned propaganda ministry, the YES Network. Were that the case, it would have been penned by Jack Curry, had twice the ingratiating obnoxiousness and a quarter of the skill.

Still, within the first 20 pages, the direction of the narrative was clear as the authors – Bob Klapisch and Paul Solortaroff – dumped on, in order, Derek Jeter, Joe Girardi and Joe Torre. Ranging from a Yankees icon to a Hall of Fame manager to a key role player and World Series winning manager, they had fallen out of favor in the Bronx for a variety of sins and were cast out to the purgatory not limited to estrangement, but to open hostility.

This is no coincidence as it occurs simultaneously to avoiding foreshadowing (or foreplay) or any other writerly (or sex-based) techniques and going straight into the borderline pornographic worship of Brian Cashman. Reading between the thinly veiled lines, Cashman could also be referred to as “The Man Who Could Do No Wrong.”

Part of the book’s disappointment and failure is not the story itself, but of the expectations that preceded the news that it was being written in the first place. For those who read baseball tell-alls like Ball Four, The Bronx Zoo and others, a yearlong case study followed by an autopsy regardless of the outcome holds tremendous allure. Unfortunately, the writers retreat to the safety of the current trend of “baseball business” books, most of which pale in comparison to the initial and admittedly interesting while incredibly flawed and misunderstood Moneyball. Post-Moneyball, The Extra 2% was the next and last of the immersing stories that had yet to be told. After that came the love letters to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs and Theo Epstein, the Houston Astros and Jeff Luhnow, and a few others, all of which were agenda-based, misleading and largely dull.

It’s tiresome not just because the stories have basically been told, albeit in different forms with a different cast of characters, but because the stories are so repetitive and devoid of criticism. This goes beyond the caveated individual mistakes that turned into learning experiences with substantial blame doled out on others since the main characters certainly couldn’t have been at fault as that would have sabotaged the entire goal of the story: to create a hero even if there wasn’t one.

The book doesn’t enter the realm of The Yankee Years by Torre and Tom Verducci where Torre aired his gripes, executed his vendettas and cemented his self-created and media-promoted visage of a combination Vito Corleone and the Pope, but Cashman and Torre’s perception of what occurred during that time and, by extension, how that impacted his replacement Girardi, are key parts of Inside the Empire.

The baseball business book model might be what publishers are looking for and what editors steer the narrative towards, but for those who want an insider’s perspective, it simply no longer works. We want meat, not cotton candy.

Perhaps Klapisch was scarred by what was, on the surface, a legitimate attempt at a tell-all with The Worst Team Money Could Buy about the disastrous 1992 New York Mets. The book itself was also a disappointment for those who hoped for a day-by-day diary of spending spree, a cast of compelling characters and a promising season that quickly devolved into a nightmare, but it was far better than this patched together mess, a book that tries to appeal to the Yankee fan and retain access while taking care not to offend anyone who is still closely affiliated with the club.

As much as Klapisch says those Mets players labeling him as someone who can’t be trusted did not affect him one way or the other; that he was not intimidated when Bobby Bonilla physically threatened him, for someone like him, who is and has for a long time been under the impression that he was not just a journalist who covers the team, but a peer who sees himself as a player, this is a scar that could have been reopened had he been completely honest about the 2018 Yankees and not diluted the tale so as not to “betray” anyone in whose confidence he was taken.

And therein lies the problem. The authors traded access for the lavishing of praise upon the characters who remained in the Yankee family.

Aaron Judge? Awesome player and human who everyone loves.

Didi Gregorius? Emerging leader whose good humor and affability masks an intense competitor.

CC Sabathia? The Yankees’ version of Yoda.

Aaron Boone? Wonderful guy whose even keeled demeanor was a marked departure from Girardi’s twitchy tightness.

It goes on and on.

At its end, there is an open question of Cashman’s blueprint of power above all else, ignoring situational hitting and strikeouts, wondering whether he would eventually look at the Red Sox and Astros and admit that perhaps adaptation needed to extend beyond the restructuring of the organization and adherence to cold numbers, accepting that the analysts didn’t know everything and there was nuance to the tactics by using the strategic single rather than every swing being for the fences.

The one remaining Yankee who did get criticized was Giancarlo Stanton, but even that was limited to a hand-wringing, halfhearted musing of his positives and negatives.

Gary Sanchez – the player who deserves to be slaughtered for his inattention, lack of fundamentals and bottom line laziness – is largely spared from a deserved lashing.

Boone is protected from criticism for inexplicable reasons that one can only surmise of him being a nice guy who is so completely devoid of any responsibility apart from following orders and providing monotonous platitudes that the team could have won 100 games if they stationed a mannequin in a uniform at the corner of the dugout and used a series of wires for him to perform “managerial functions.”

It all reverts to Cashman and his vision; his goal; his intent when masterfully taking charge of the organization and nudging Hal Steinbrenner into the direction he wanted.

The excuses are mind-numbing and fall into precisely what the late Boss, George Steinbrenner, would not have tolerated not because he was an unhinged, raving lunatic (he was), but because he would have been right not to want to hear that Sanchez’s lackadaisical behavior was because he was injured; that Boone’s absence of fire was a positive; that Stanton repeatedly striking out was part of the $300 million package. Nor would he have quietly acquiesced to the other explanations as to what went wrong as a team that won 100 games was discarded like irrelevant debris by its most hated rivals.

Cashman tried to assuage the concerns of fans and media members who were slowly coming to grips with the reality that this was no longer the Yankees of The Boss by proclaiming the organization a “fully operational Death Star,” implying that the so-called Evil Empire had gotten its payroll under control, rebuilt the farm system sans the Boss’s constant interference and template of preferring to trade young players for proven veterans while spending on exorbitant free agents, and was again prepared to combine tactical decisions with price being no object to return the Yankees to baseball’s pantheon not with a sole championship to break their decade-long drought, but with a team that was set to be the next dynasty.

In truth, it was unabashed hyperbole. Without Darth Vader, there is no Death Star. And The Boss was the organizational Darth Vader and proud of it. Instead, the Yankees’ ultimate weapon is more something out of Mel Brooks with Cashman as Rick Moranis’s “Dark Helmet,” someone who looks unimposing in person, sounds unimposing in practice, and is a technocrat who seized power piecemeal with an admittedly admirable Machiavellian efficiency and has decided to use that power to be like every other supposedly forward-thinking organization in sports and hope for a chance at a championship rather than winning the championship itself. The constant statements about accountability are nonexistent under this regime because no one is getting fired if they fail; players are unafraid of checking their names on social medial for a missive from the deranged Boss; and a Little League credo of “just try as hard as you can” is deemed sufficient.

And that’s not the Yankees that George Steinbrenner built.

The book could have been an exposé of what would otherwise have been a failed season for the Yankees, but was instead a borderline celebration of what they have become with the architects credited for its own sake. Had they ignored the fallout of telling truths that would have angered the organization, the book could have been excellent. Instead, it’s another generic tale about the baseball business, the kind we’ve seen too much of already to be memorable.

Mike Francesa is becoming a white dwarf

Broadcasting, MLB

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Mike Francesa’s belief that he is superior led to a series of career mistakes that has culminated in the ongoing and embarrassing display in which he tries to salvage the remaining vestiges of relevance.

Throughout his media career, Francesa’s ego has always been his largest organ/appetite. Well beyond his ample stomach proportions and insatiable addiction to Diet Coke, it’s always been there. From his tenure functioning as “Brent’s Brain” working for Brent Musburger at CBS and feeding the veteran broadcaster the obscure nuggets of information that seemingly no one else had and ghostwriting articles for Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, his sights were set higher.

Despite an accent that came right out of New Yawk and his tacit refusal to use the deep…broadcaster’s…voice exemplified by Ernie Johnson, Francesa had a gimmick few others had when it really wasn’t a gimmick. It was just him.

Put on the air at WFAN while the first all-sports radio station was in its infancy, his takes were unique and generally well thought out. Regardless of the arrogance and self-promotion behind them, he delivered them in such a cocksure manner that it was impossible to ignore and easy to grant credibility even if they were preposterous. Put on the air with a similarly unique voice – who was unhinged and obnoxious – Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, the show took off with the partnership lasting two decades until the desire to be on their own and make more money split them.

A substantial part of his shtick was the tacit refusal to ever admit he was wrong about anything. If that’s an exaggeration, it’s only slight.

The spiral began years ago and began hurtling down the mountain at speeds only a wall would stop. The move from the televised simulcast of his radio show on the YES Network to Fox Sports 1 was half-understandable in that YES – like the Yankees propaganda wing it is – preferred someone who would not criticize the organization in any way except in the meekest, most apologetic tone. While a Yankees fan, Francesa never went that far. Certainly, Michael Kay was an ideal replacement for what the network sought in terms of shilling content. FS1 not only had a fraction of the reach of YES, but it was constantly preempted. Francesa, whose arrogance by then had extended to thinking he could negotiate his own contracts sans an agent, had a deal where his simulcast was rarely simulcast. Eventually, the sides mutually agreed to part and he was never on television again.

Then there was his “farewell tour,” something that was generally limited to legitimate on-field sports stars like Derek Jeter. He bogarted it and wallowed in the accolades and feting for a year.

It was only after the “retirement” that reality hit and the expected litany of high profile, well compensated jobs were not there.

So, as the WFAN replacement The Afternoon Drive with Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott struggled in every conceivable way; as the time slot lost advertisers; with WFAN listeners doing the unthinkable and abandoning ship for Michael Kay, avid Francesa fans lamented his departure and wished for his return, he did everyone a favor. Except it was critical that there be a caveat that he didn’t come crawling back because he had nowhere else to go, but that it was a preplanned decision to promote his app.

Yet it hasn’t gone as he expected.

A vast portion of his fans have had enough. Joining Twitter – something he said he’d never, ever do – was perhaps the biggest mistake, even bigger than the app, its clumsy rollout, Francesa making it sound like a revolutionary creation, and its exorbitant cost for what subscribers are getting. Now, he can no longer deny his most rancid takes never happened. Suggesting the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to trade him for Mike Trout was the worst one in recent memory. He’s giving opinions that would be mocked and ridiculed by Francesa himself had a caller or another media person given them and now there’s a video clip from the app to see it and a tweet to quote it verbatim.

The explanations of how long he plans to stay on the air and what the future holds are generating yawns and shrugs. Fans might have clamored for him to come back, but quickly realized that his indifference grew worse in the interim from his “retirement” to his return. Doing the show from home, being lazier than ever, exhibiting a toxic narcissism that not even his biggest fans can stand – it’s all contributed to the growing indifference of what he says.

He’s been reduced to Twitter screeds that elicit the same “Who cares?” that Francesa uttered when a caller asked him about the death of the Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee.

The condescension, contradictions, self-destructiveness to feed his megalomania – all have contributed to his rapid slide. It’s difficult to say that he should have altered the strategy to that got him to his formerly lofty position in the first place, but there’s been no adaptation. It’s the same. It might even have gotten worse. This is rapidly descending to his worst nightmare of irrelevance.

The ever-present ego expanded like a star’s expansion into a red giant. The metaphor is apt because, eventually, it retracts into a white dwarf and eventually burns out.

The Yankees will not fire Aaron Boone and here’s why

MLB, Uncategorized

Boone pic

Aaron Boone is not getting fired.

Prior to detailing the reasons why this is fact – not speculation – let’s start with a question:

If Boone were fired, whom do you want to replace him?

Before going off on a quick-fire response by saying Joe Girardi or asking for time to scour the web to see who’s available, know this: Boone got the job and will keep the job for precisely the same reasons many are calling for him to lose his job; and if, for whatever reason, the Yankees needed a new manager, they would hire someone exactly like Boone.

To understand why this is the case, it’s necessary to go back to what sparked the transition from what the manager was to what the manager is and how that impacts Boone’s job status and what general manager Brian Cashman wants.

Mitigation vs. Subjugation

When Cashman replaced Bob Watson as GM after the 1997 season, he inherited a manager, Joe Torre, who had been a borderline Hall of Fame player and had managed for two decades. Torre won a championship one year earlier and had the attitude and cachet to make his feelings known while ignoring the front office as to how the team should be run, sometimes insubordinately and profanely. George Steinbrenner was still alive and despite having mellowed ever-so-slightly from the raving mania that defined him through his second suspension in 1990, also needed to be dealt with.

In short, Cashman was in charge, but not in charge. His job was to placate, mitigate and manipulate, not subjugate as is the case today.

To say that Cashman walked into a trust fund worth billions is somewhat accurate. To gain access to that trust fund, however, he needed to subject himself to the irrational abuse of George Steinbrenner for twelve years and deal with the trustee – Torre – knowing that wresting power from the manager would take years, if it ever happened at all.

Torre had his job threatened multiple times and calls for a change grew louder and louder the longer the Yankees’ championship drought lasted. Both Cashman and Torre had grown tired of one another. Cashman for his limited influence with the manager and Torre with the lack of credit he felt he received for the Yankees’ return to glory under his command.

After another disappointing loss in the 2007 Division Series – their third in a row – and having blown a 3-0 Championship Series lead in 2004 against the hated Red Sox, Torre departed in an unhappy break that, in retrospect, was a divorce that both sides secretly wanted and did not openly express; they would have remained together had the lingering issues been worked out.

Throne of Games

The Yankees conducted a limited search for Torre’s replacement and it was the beginning of Cashman’s Machiavellian accumulation of power. Already, he was in the process of rendering impotent the Steinbrenner “Tampa faction” so nothing would interfere with, nor undo, his decisions, for better or worse. Now, he needed a manager. One year earlier, after Torre’s Yankees were stunningly eliminated by the Tigers in the ALDS, Torre’s dismissal was all-but assured and he was set to be replaced by a Steinbrenner favorite and longtime sparring partner Lou Piniella.

Had Piniella gotten the Yankees job, the roster would have been Piniella’s, not Cashman’s. The manager had no qualms about whispering to his close friends in the media – people with whom he’d had relationships for twenty-five years and for whom he was a frequent “unnamed” source for the inside scoop of the asylum known as the Bronx Zoo. The charming, handsome and quotable Piniella was the direct opposite from the nerdy, rodent-like, shifty and droning Cashman.

Whether he would have been an improvement over Torre was irrelevant. He was familiar; he was less imperious and more combustible than the taciturn Torre; and he’d basically write the media’s stories for them.

To be shunted to the side in such a way could have ended Cashman’s tenure as GM or rendered him as little more than a figurehead.

Of course, given the affinity Steinbrenner had for Piniella and Piniella’s magical touch with the media, this was the last thing Cashman wanted even if he felt a change was needed from Torre. From his viewpoint, replacing Torre with Piniella would have made things exponentially worse. Torre remained for one more year and Piniella was hired to manage the Cubs.

After Torre’s departure or firing (depending on whom you ask), the three main candidates to replace him were Tony Pena, Don Mattingly and Girardi.

Pena had managed the Royals, won Manager of the Year for coaxing an 83-79 season out of them in 2003 – their first season over .500 in a decade – and then resigned after 104 losses in 2004 and an 8-25 start in 2005. He’d become a loyal coach for Torre and did not appear to be particularly enthused about managing again.

Mattingly was a former Yankees star who was beloved throughout the organization, among the players, in the media and across the city – even Mets fans liked him.

Girardi had been a key, clutch player for Torre on the 1996, 1998 and 1999 championship teams; he was a leader; and he had the managerial experience that Mattingly lacked, also winning Manager of the Year in 2006 for the Marlins only to be fired by Jeffrey Loria, an owner whose capriciousness and reactivity harkened back to the worst days of Steinbrenner.

Girardi got the nod in part because he was younger than the set-in-his-ways Torre; because he had the experience that Mattingly did not; he was aware of the burgeoning use of advanced statistics and willing to implement them in ways Torre would not; and if it didn’t work out, Cashman could easily fire him – something he could not do with Mattingly or Piniella.

Girardi survived 2008 when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and had similar calls for his job as Boone does now and, after a half-a-billion-dollar spending spree on free agents Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees won another championship in 2009 with largely the same core that had won for Torre.

The Yankees maintained their level of annual championship contender through 2012 and then, as Cashman finally fully consolidated his power with the death of George Steinbrenner and the full Michael Corleone-style elimination of the Tampa faction, set about a pseudo-rebuild.

To his credit, Girardi kept the team competitive throughout the process and amid the retirements and retirement tours of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera; with the aging and declining Teixeira; with a patchwork of broken down and available veterans like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner providing little-to-nothing; and trying to develop young players while keeping the team from falling to the depths of 90+ losses.

He coaxed a Wild Card berth with a team that was mediocre at best in 2015; he kept them above .500 for the duration. In 2017, the club made a wondrous jump that not even the front office saw coming and they came within one win of a pennant.

Then, with Girardi’s contract expired and the Yankees going full-bore into the analytics revolution, Girardi was discarded. Technically, he was not offered another contract; for all intents and purposes, he was fired.

The Self-Aware Puppet

To gain some perspective into the Yankees’ good fortune (they’d call it skill even if it isn’t) with their previous managers, the calm and cool Torre was the perfect antidote to the anal retentive and smothering Buck Showalter; Girardi checked off multiple boxes and the Yankees were beyond lucky that one candidate who might have gotten the job, Trey Hillman, took the Royals’ offer first and was a disaster on and off the field. Hillman couldn’t handle the media in Kansas City. Just imagine him in New York.

Unlike previous Yankees managerial searches, the legitimate candidates – Boone, Hensley Meulens, Rob Thomson, Carlos Beltran, Chris Woodward – to replace Girardi all had certain aspects in common: they were younger; they had no managerial experience; they would follow orders; and they would take short money for the opportunity.

Even the one veteran former manager they interviewed, Eric Wedge, had worked in an Indians organization that was run from the top-down. He was not a serious candidate for the job anyway.

All this fits into the new template for a big-league manager, one the Yankees willingly dove into.

Boone pulling Luis Severino too late; starting J.A. Happ in Game 1 of the ALDS; playing Neil Walker instead of Miguel Andujar; putting Brett Gardner in left field instead of Andrew McCutchen; using Lance Lynn instead of one of the big-name relievers David Robertson, Dellin Betances or Zach Britton; letting Gary Sanchez repeatedly get away with overt laziness and rancid defense – none of that matters.

The key question to ask about Boone is not whether he did a “good” job or not.

The key question to ask is if he did the job he was hired to do and the answer is an unequivocal yes.

And that’s what Cashman wanted.

Whereas the front office was forced to deal with managers who had the contract status and the resumes to take or leave front office entreaties, as the power and sway of the manager diminished and the men hired to do the job were disposable and pliable, those entreaties slowly morphed into edicts. No longer does a front office ask a manager to do certain things and hope he does it. They tell him what to do and masquerade it as collaboration. There’s no “buy-in” necessary for the manager because if he doesn’t buy in, he doesn’t get or keep the job.

Boone was hired to consult with the front office and adhere to the pregame blueprint as it was laid out without deviating from that. The decisions Boone made – good or bad – were made before the game started. Having never managed before, he has no feel for the rapid-fire strategies that are viewed as sowing the seeds for the Yankees’ ALDS downfall and loss to the Red Sox because he is not paid to have a feel.

When Cashman does eulogize the season, he’ll utter the familiar platitudes as to the job his hand-picked and remote controlled manager did.

Media critiques and fan anger will not change a thing. Cashman will not have an epiphany and see the “error” of his ways, turning around and hiring a manager who is the exact opposite of Boone just because their plan did not yield the ultimately desired result of a championship.

The reasons Boone was hired have not changed, therefore the manager will not change either.

Don’t expect the Cubs to fire Joe Maddon or for him to walk away

MLB, Uncategorized

Maddon pic

As rough a time as Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is having with his clumsy response to questions about the domestic violence allegations against Addison Russell, team president Theo Epstein cryptically blaming him for closer Brandon Morrow being lost for the season, and the general perception that after four years and undeniable success his message has grown stale, barring an implosion, Maddon will be managing the Cubs in 2019.

Certainly, the golden reputation Maddon brought with him when he took the job after the 2014 season has lost its shine. The constant stream of canned quirkiness and ever-expanding ego wore thin in Tampa Bay to the point that once the anger of his sudden and unforeseen departure dissipated, there was a sense of relief that he was gone.

The media ate up Maddon’s hiring as part of the Cubs’ crafted narrative of going all in to break their championship curse, but once they had won their World Series, it became easier to dissect the manager with an objectivity that yielded answers to questions that had been glossed over to the degree that they weren’t even asked.

This is beyond the product Maddon sells – Joe Maddon – and into the realm of diminishing returns. As the layers are stripped away, the skeletonized remains show a good, but not great manager who is not well liked within baseball circles due to his penchant for self-promotion and “I’m better than you” condescension. As time passes, that will unavoidably permeate the team he works for.

With these factors, it would come as no surprise if Epstein is getting an itchy trigger finger with his manager. Every manager or coach, no matter the level of success, eventually wears out his welcome. Maddon’s personality only serves to expedite that process. Except it won’t be after this season.

Blameworthy or not, Epstein has never been shy about making proactive changes to his operation. Hitting coaches, pitching coaches – their names have been interchangeable under the Epstein regime. Even the managers that preceded Maddon were disposable and tossed overboard for reasons valid and not.

Maddon is not wholly at fault for much of what has ailed the Cubs in 2018. He didn’t sign Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish. He didn’t decide the oft-injured Morrow should be the team’s closer. That the Cubs have overcome those players’ issues as well as injuries that have hindered star third baseman Kris Bryant and made the playoffs for the fourth straight season is due, in part, to the manager.

Leveraging the cohesiveness with the Rays into the reputation as the “best” manager in baseball and exercising an opt-out with a rumored backdoor deal with the Cubs in place gave Maddon the salary, the recognition and the big market he had long sought. That it became a Faustian bargain is somewhat ironic when the Cubs very nearly lost that long elusive World Series because of his strategic gaffes. In the intervening years, his reputation and image have declined precipitously.

Still, his job is secure for two reasons: one, his salary; two, 2019 is increasingly looking to be the last go-round for Cubs’ current construction.

At a reported salary of $6 million for 2019, the Cubs will not simply swallow that money just because factions inside and outside the organization have grown tired of his shtick. That’s a lot of money for Maddon to go sit in a broadcast booth and spout his pretentious nonsense. Even a mutual agreement to part ways and a buyout with all the money being paid over several years can lessen the impact to a degree, but it’s still $6 million. Then there’s the matter of paying Joe Girardi or Mike Scioscia similar money or rolling the dice on a cheap unknown.

To win the 2016 World Series, Epstein overpaid for Aroldis Chapman by sending rising star Gleyber Torres to the New York Yankees. In subsequent seasons, to try and maintain a championship caliber club, other top prospects like Eloy Jimenez were also traded away. As a result, the farm system is depleted, their star position players are growing more expensive, and their pitching staff is aging. That impressive core of position players is still in its 20s and a retooling is more probable than a rebuild. But will they still want to pay Maddon after 2019 when his message is tiresome and his great personality for what they were trying to build has become a grating personality for what they’re going to need to rebuild? He’s not taking a pay cut and he’ll be 65. The sense of this cycle running its course is palpable.

What more is there to accomplish? He’s got his recognition; he’s got his money; and it’s preferable to jump before being pushed. This combination of factors will save Maddon when, if the circumstances were different, he could and should be shown the door, thanked for his service with an audible sigh of relief by the rest of the organization when he’s gone.

If the Mets want Omar Minaya, they should just hire Omar Minaya

MLB, Uncategorized

minaya

For weeks now, the New York Mets have been dropping hints that Omar Minaya is their preferred choice to return to his former role as general manager on a permanent basis. Minaya, who was rehired in spring training as an assistant to GM Sandy Alderson as a troubleshooter to blunt relentless and fair criticism of the club’s minor league system, is a current member of the triad of baseball decision makers along with John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi. The three have been running things since Alderson’s leave of absence to address his recurrence of cancer. Alderson’s exit has been labeled a firing without a firing. Alderson himself all but said if he were making the hiring and firing decision on the job he’s done in the past two years, he’d have fired himself.

Recognizable names like Ben Cherington, Dan Duquette and Kim Ng among others have been mentioned to replace Alderson, but the looming presence of Minaya is a constant. Already, various incarnations of the same story have surfaced with Minaya either spearheading the entire search or as an inherited, non-negotiable part of any new front office structure.

Whether the Mets truly intend to conduct an exhaustive search or not is known only to them. With the strategic leaks emanating from the club saying Fred Wilpon wants someone more old-school and that Minaya is a candidate to pull a Dick Cheney, be put forth as the person overseeing the vetting process before jumping into the fray himself with a, “hey, how about me?” move, he could very well get the job.

Perhaps it’s calculated and the Wilpons have already made clear to Minaya that once the smoke clears and they can effectively sell it to a perpetually angry fan base and dubious, hypocritical media, he’s the guy.

There is reason to be hesitant to again entrust Minaya with the fate of the organization. However it’s a mistake to base that hesitancy on faux baseball “experts” who are granted a forum and have an inexplicable following as they respond to the mere suggestion of Minaya with such florid and baseless made-for-social-media responses such as “facepalm” or “eyeroll” without formulating a well-organized and cogent critique and what credentials the Mets should be looking for in their new GM instead of those Minaya brings to the table.

Reading Moneyball/Astroball/Whateverball does not make one an expert; nor does having a basic grasp of sabermetrics or the ability to regurgitate stats and scouting terminology while posing as a peer of experienced baseball people. Of course, a critique of Minaya’s time as Mets GM can be done. There were positives and negatives to the regime, but that can be said about any executive in any business.

During Minaya’s first tenure, the club relied on antiquated strategies even for the time-period as the sports information boom had yet to explode and permeate the game as it has today. Advanced statistics were scoffed at and ignored. While the aggressive spending on Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner worked in the immediate aftermath, the patchwork to fill holes and salvage the remnants of their near misses from 2006 to 2008 resulted in a series of sunk costs and declining, injured veterans. The farm system was decried at the time, but in later years, it was found to be far stronger than that the prospect rankings suggested. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Lucas Duda, Steven Matz among others were already present.

As innovative and advanced as statistical analysis has become, every team has a department dedicated to using the new metrics to assess players. They’re mostly working from the same playbook with subtle differences in how diligently they rely on the numbers. With much of the playing field leveled by these advancements, something of a necessary reversion is taking place with a greater reliance on the unquantifiable and eyeball assessment – something Minaya is good at.

When he’s doing crisis control, such as clumsily firing Willie Randolph, when Tony Bernazard was accused of abusive and arrogant behaviors, or dealing with incidents like Francisco Rodriguez beating his pseudo father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, he’s repetitive and clueless.

There’s no debating that Minaya has a checkered past as Mets GM and is certainly not the type of person who fits in the mold of this era’s preferred top baseball executive. If they’re going to do this, the key to its success is to examine and understand Minaya’s strengths and weaknesses and remove the weaknesses from the equation.

When flashing his glittering smile in a finely tailored and stylish suit while introducing his glossy new free agent signing or trade acquisition, Minaya is great – one of the most charismatic baseball executives around. His ability to persuade players to believe in what he’s doing and sign with the Mets when the club’s history and inherent issues – namely the Wilpons – would normally give pause to any player and agent with options is notable and impressive. Even when he doesn’t get what he wants at first, he revisits the idea and makes it happen where the player has no choice as he did with trading for Carlos Delgado one year after he spurned the Mets’ free agent pursuit to sign with the Florida Marlins.

Letting him head baseball operations and leaving Ricco to do the hatchet work and organizational spokesman stuff when the inevitable problems crop up can work.  Certainly, Minaya is not the guy to hire if an organization is looking for the creation of a new algorithm. That this is even up for consideration and knowing how Minaya operates as a Euro-fútbol manager who buys international stars implies that the Wilpons were not lying when they said their finances are stabilized and they’re ready to start pouring money into the team again. Why else would it be floated that they’re considering a move of Amed Rosario to center field unless they’re ready to unleash Minaya to do what he does best and go on a big game hunt for Manny Machado to take over at shortstop?

The easy answer for the Wilpons is to follow the current trends and hire a 30-something numbers guy with an impressive degree from a high-end school and let him or her move the Mets into the present and future with a technocratic tilt. Besides the reality that doing that doesn’t guarantee success on the field, more damage can be done when hiring a top executive due to outside pressure than by hiring someone who has known flaws but is trusted and familiar to ownership. Already any outsider is handcuffed by inheriting Minaya and Ricco while simultaneously needing to mitigate Jeff Wilpon. That hire might be told when getting the job that there will be reasonable autonomy, but that will last until the new baseball “boss” walks into Wilpon’s office with a trade proposal that will yield five prospects for deGrom and receives a bemused hiccuppy laugh followed by, “We’re not trading deGrom.”

Then what?

Minaya knows the deal and he loves the Mets. The Wilpons trust him. He’s well-liked throughout baseball. If he’s allowed to stay in his lane, he could legitimately achieve what the club has been pushing since mid-summer amid mocking and ridicule and return the Mets to contention by 2019.

Rather than adhering to what will get them better media coverage and nods of approval from those whose opinions are irrelevant, they should do what they’re comfortable with. If that means rehiring Minaya, so be it.