What do the Yankees do with Gary Sanchez?

MLB, Uncategorized

Sanchez passed ball

The New York Yankees have run out of alibis for Gary Sanchez. The “Joe Girardi was too hard/soft on him,” “he’s a work in progress,” “he’s young,” “he’s got plenty of room for improvement,” “he’s injured” storylines have run dry like The Fast and the Furious films only with Sanchez, it’s “The Slow and the Lazy.”

How should they deal with him?

If Sanchez played any other position, it’s likely he would have been traded already. But he doesn’t. He’s a catcher. Even in this era of the launch angle, hitting the ball in the air and everyone trying to hit home runs, finding a catcher who will hit 30-plus home runs is nearly impossible. The market is not exactly saturated with top-tier backstops with Sanchez’s talent, lackadaisical and indifferent or not. He has a cannon for an arm and has, in the past, been successful throwing out base stealers. This somewhat troublesome combination tightens the vise the organization is in.

The simple solution is to move him to another position. While there have been numerous catchers who have successfully transitioned from behind the plate to third base or the outfield (Joe Torre, Todd Zeile, Josh Donaldson and Brian Downing to name a few), Sanchez has two positions where his expectations would be reasonable and he could concentrate on hitting: first base and designated hitter.

Given Greg Bird’s struggles and the likelihood that Luke Voit’s sudden success stems more from a lack of familiarity on the part of the pitchers than a miraculous career jump when he’ll be 28 early next year, the position could be available in 2019 if they choose to make it available.

What this boils down to, however, is the Yankees placating and essentially rewarding Sanchez when he has not earned such accommodations with his work ethic, attitude and performance. Already, they have given him a pass other players would not have been accorded because of his talent and, more importantly, the position he plays occupies.

His offensive numbers have been horrendous in 2018, but for that, he does deserve something of a pass. Or at least those numbers must be placed in the proper context.

An OPS of .694 and an OPS+ of 83 is embarrassingly bad, but he does have 15 home runs in 300 plate appearances. His on-base percentage is still slightly shy of .100 points above his batting average. He has hit in absurdly poor luck with a .191 BAbip; his line drive percentage is down significantly and that is worrisome, but if he does deserve something of a do-over, it’s at the plate.

That does not address his deficiencies nor justify his behavior behind the plate.

For a functional catcher, blocking balls in the dirt and getting on the same page with the pitchers is non-negotiable. Making matters worse is that the problem with passed balls can be fixed relatively easily if he simply does what a catcher is supposed to do, what a catcher is trained to do by dropping to his knees and corralling balls in the dirt so they don’t roll between his legs, ricochet of his glove or shin guards and bounce away. Then he compounds those terrible fundamentals with a total lack of hustle.

After the debacle in Tampa Bay where he repeatedly slogged in a “fat guy trying to lose weight by jogging” way after the seemingly endless number of balls that ended up behind him or bounced away to the left or right and then ended the game by not running out a ground ball, he was put on the disabled list with a groin injury.

Let’s suspend suspicion of the injury that kept him out more than a month was part legitimate and part time-out to sit in the corner and think about what he did. Let’s say he was 100 percent injured. What about the series in Oakland against the Athletics when he again did his slow trot after passed balls without the injury excuse? What does it take to get it through his head that he needs to put in the effort to do the basics of his job as a defender and sheer talent won’t get him by.

Except the Yankees keep granting him that pass. The question is how long they will continue to do so.

An idea was floated earlier in the summer that the Yankees could put a package together to trade Sanchez to the Miami Marlins as part of a deal for their star catcher J.T. Realmuto and solve the litany of problems they’re having at the position. Before getting into the rehash of the allegations of Yankee-centric attachment and criticism Marlins CEO Derek Jeter faced after essentially giving the Yankees Giancarlo Stanton (an unfair accusation as Stanton forced his way to the Yankees, leaving Jeter with no choice), it would look far worse for a commodity like Realmuto to be traded to the Yankees in exchange for Sanchez when Sanchez’s value has never been lower and could still get worse. Add in the reality that Sanchez plays for the Yankees and doesn’t hustle. Imagine him playing in Miami and losing 95 games a year. They’d be lucky if he even showed up at the park for the start of games.

If he was plain bad defensively, it wasn’t for lack of effort and he was producing offensively, the team would be within reason to shrug it off and hope that with hard work, he’d improve sufficiently to be passable enough that he was not a blatant defensive liability.

It’s not only that he’s bad. He’s bad and lazy. He plays a position where the tolerance for missteps is far higher than it is for just about any other position. Their farm system is largely devoid of another top-level catching prospect to replace him and getting rid of him right after the season would be addition by subtraction in the short-term, but counterproductive in the long-term.

For now, the only answer is that he must sit and occasionally function as the DH with Austin Romine catching every day. Then the real decision on how to handle him can be made, whatever decision that is – if there is one at all.

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For the Cardinals, was it firing Matheny, changing the roster, or both?

MLB, Uncategorized

Shildt

At first glance, the St. Louis Cardinals’ season turned around on July 14 when they fired manager Mike Matheny and replaced him with bench coach Mike Shildt. It’s an easy story to tell. Given the focus on the manager, especially a polarizing one like Matheny, the simple act of making a change can be labeled as the flashpoint. Firing the manager won’t make a bad team good, but it can make an underachieving team achieve. There’s certainly no defending Matheny, whose fate was sealed not just by the team’s lackluster play, but by the bursting into the open of clubhouse fissures and a veteran-rookie caste system that he not only failed to corral, but tacitly encouraged.

It never looks good for the former manager when, after his dismissal, the team behaves as if it was released from a Soviet gulag. This will undoubtedly affect Matheny if he tries to get another managing job. With his current perception throughout baseball, his best route is to be a bench coach or front office assistant and just be present if the club’s current manager is fired and he’s the guy standing there to take over on an interim basis.

That aside, the Cardinals’ jump to the second-best record in the National League goes beyond a managerial change. Often, such a change is cosmetic and/or a capitulation – and with the Cardinals, assessing their subsequent moves after pulling the trapdoor on Matheny, it might have been a bit of both.

As watered down as it is, there must have been a certain amount of “maybe this’ll light a spark” thought process in the Cardinals front office. Clearing some unproductive and problematic players truly ignited it. This is not to downplay the searing hot streak that has pushed Matt Carpenter to the top of Most Valuable Player contention, but that alone would not have carried the club to where it is now.

After firing Matheny and installing the steady Shildt, the following also happened to benefit them:

Fowler and the organization have been at odds all season. The hatred between player and manager was palpable. As much as teams say salary and contract have no bearing on lineup decisions, a .576 OPS and an embarrassing 58 OPS+ are sufficient to bench any player. When adding the implications of Fowler’s lackadaisical play, he should not have been playing. What reason other than salary can be used to justify Fowler’s continued presence in the lineup before he got hurt?

An unproductive player whose presence in the lineup is based on nothing more than salary and status sends a ripple through the clubhouse that a merit-based strategy comes in second to other factors. A steadier lineup configuration with Carpenter moving to first base, Jed Gyorko installed at third, and Jose Martinez moving shifted to right field not only removed the stigma of ancillary factors holding sway, it made the team better simply by Fowler’s absence.

Pham was largely justified in his anger at the organization. The chip on his shoulder was legitimate. The club keeping him in the minors far longer than it should have and failing to give him a chance until it had no other choice has cost him several years of his prime and a significant amount of money. That lingering rage, though, is something that can permeate a clubhouse and stoke tensions even if it is kept at a low simmer. It’s a sigh of relief when the multiple tensions of managerial missteps and failure to lead; a player who was getting by on minimal effort and shielded by a contract; and a player who was perpetually pissed off are all out of the picture.

With Pham gone, Harrison Bader was installed in center field. He’s a better defender than Pham and it also let them make the previously listed lineup maneuvers sans Fowler.

  • The pitching was reconfigured.

Greg Holland was a disastrous late-spring training signing. He walked as many batters as he struck out and never seemed to overcome the missed time in the spring. That he has pitched well since joining the Washington Nationals makes it appear that his problems were, partially, atmospheric.

They acquired Chasen Shreve from the New York Yankees for Luke Voit and Shreve has been excellent since arriving in St. Louis.

John Gant and Austin Gomber have filled in nicely in the starting rotation.

***

Dumping the manager is an easy sacrifice, especially when the team is underachieving and the manager is generally perceived to have the job because of looking the part rather than tactical acumen. What appears more likely is that the attitude change and using different players was as, if not more, important than the act of firing Matheny even if firing Matheny is the easy story to write about the Cardinals’ turnaround.

On David Wright, Peter Alonso and the Mets

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

Wright pic

It’s clear by now that the Mets are treating David Wright’s rehab with the passing glance of practical indifference. The comments of one-third acting GM John Ricco hammered home this point.

 

In other words, the Mets are saying “if he wants to try, go nuts” while not granting him any accommodation because he’s a franchise icon and the captain of the team. By assessing him as they would any other player, the Mets can make the decision of whether to activate him based on baseball-only considerations.

“Baseball-only” also encompasses the insurance they are collecting while he’s injured. It’s 75 percent of his contract. It’s not a few bucks. It’s a lot. To imply that the organization should not calculate the value of Wright playing a game or two as a sentimental sideshow in a lost season is nothing more than searching for ways to rip the organization when they are not only within their rights to think about money, but would be stupid not to think about money in this context.

Were they contending and Wright had the capacity to provide an emotional boost and serve as a useful bat off the bench down the stretch, then there’s a minimal argument for activating him. With the team playing out the string and Wright’s litany of injuries capable of putting him back on the shelf – perhaps permanently – at any moment, what’s the point?

This is a prime example of the Mets being criticized regardless of what they do. If they activated him, it would be to sell tickets. Since they’re not activating him, it’s because they’re cheap and don’t want to forfeit the insurance they’re collecting on his contract.

If this is how they’re treated, they might as well do what’s in the organization’s best interests and that means refusing to kowtow any longer to this fantasy of a Wright return not just in some semblance of his old form, but for him to return to the major leagues at all.

Peter Alonso

On a busy Tuesday for an also-ran, the Mets also said they were not recalling prospect Peter Alonso for a September looksee. Their stated reasons – no spot in the lineup, poor defense – is clashing with the rea$on others are citing in that they do not want to put him on the 40-man roster and perhaps save money in the long run by keeping him in the minors and off the 40-man, thereby delaying his chance at arbitration.

When other teams do this, they’re being smart by manipulating the rules to their advantage. When the Mets do it, they’re being petty and cheap.

Again, as with Wright, there’s no way for the club to win when the argument takes this turn. And again, with that in mind, they should and are looking out for their own interests.

Alonso expressed his disappointment and his agents made some comments into the wind about which the Mets do not and should not care. He has no bargaining power and his agents are in the “Should we say something? We have to say something” phase to which the Mets should roll their eyes at its meaninglessness.

Urena-Acuna shows the right way and wrong way to send a message

MLB, Uncategorized

AcunaUrena

The Marlins’ Jose Urena drilling the Braves’ Ronald Acuna on the elbow with the first pitch of Wednesday night’s game was clearly intentional and it was done because Acuna had hit home runs in five consecutive games and leadoff home runs in three straight. Four came against the Marlins.

That was the catalyst of the benches clearing and the ejections of Urena and Braves manager Brian Snitker. Immediately, the outrage began on social media eagerly followed by columnists and analysts staking out their positions of the propriety or lack thereof of Urena’s act complete with proposed penalties for Urena and Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Despite attempts to frame it as a matter of right and wrong, it is anything but that. It was a misapplication of how to handle these specific situations in a competitive atmosphere. The circumstances dictate how to do it properly.

The simple way to categorize what Urena did and why it was wrong is to point out the difference between retaliation and a message. Urena retaliated when he really should have sent message.

There’s a difference.

With retaliation, had there been an exchange of beanballs and pitchers throwing at hitters – for any reason – then, to put a stop to it or bring matters to a head by lighting the fire for a bench clearing brawl to get the bad blood out in the open, the pitcher should drill a hitter. Doing so is part of inside baseball competition that most non-playing analysts, observers and fans have about as much of a concept of as they would what it’s like to walk on the moon. There is a primordial, instinctive, animalistic nature to sports that cannot be transferred to a series of numbers or boardroom machination. The heat of competition will sometimes start a blaze. Anger, irrationality and that ingrained sensibility will take hold. Were the Marlins truly angry at a transgression no matter how legitimate or trivial – a bat flip; a slow trot around the bases; a hard slide; untoward comments directed at a player or the organization; a beanball war – then Urena’s method was appropriate, like it or not.

But that wasn’t the case. What Urena did was punish Acuna for doing well by hitting him on purpose. And that is blaming the opposing player for the Marlins’ faults in not being able to get him out.

To do what Urena should have done – send a message – there should have been a first pitch slider that was so far out of the strike zone that not even Vladimir Guerrero would have swung at it, much less hit it. The next pitch should have been a fastball that was so far inside that it was either going to get Acuna to move his feet or hit the dirt, but was not high and inside to the degree that there was the risk of him getting hit in the area above the neck.

That is not a “we suck and you’re killing us, therefore I’m gonna injure you” pitch. It is a strategic maneuver akin to a hard slide. It is part of the game. Sometimes, when a pitcher does this, the ball will get away from him and the batter will get hit. Provided it isn’t in the head, most professionals will understand that. Of course, some will get angry and react. So be it.

It must also be remembered that Urena is one of the rare pitchers in baseball today who is unafraid of pitching inside. He led the majors in hit batsmen in 2017 and is leading the National League in 2018. It’s part of his game.

The question of whether throwing at Acuna was part of a coordinated strategy from inside the Marlins clubhouse is where we get into the fog of allusion and plausible deniability. Internal discussions from postgame Tuesday to pregame meetings Wednesday were likely lamenting how comfortable Acuna was and that he needed to be made less so. That’s something that is spoken of among the players, sometimes with and sometimes without a winking nod from the coaches and manager. Pregame team meetings would not have openly said, “We need to pop this guy” as they might in a series with lingering tensions and the need to retaliate. As a preplanned decision to get him off the plate and break the lock of his current hot streak, there’s no doubt the Marlins decided to throw inside with a “we need to buzz this guy.”

Buzzing and drilling are on totally different sides of the spectrum. The Marlins just chose the wrong pitcher and the wrong way to do it.

It’s not old-school, grunting meatheadedness as some will reactively suggest. It’s a tactic. With tactics, whomever puts it into action is key. Like Urena, they might not be very adept at it and there is occasionally collateral damage. That, more than the act itself, is the problem.

The Mets’ embarrassment could spark real and necessary change

MLB, Uncategorized

Ricco

The Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Braves Thursday could be viewed as “another day, another loss” in a season of promise that devolved into a disaster at stunning speed, even for them. But with each passing day, it grows clearer that the solution to repair what ails the club cannot come from inside the organization. For the duration of Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager, assistant GM John Ricco was rightfully viewed as his heir apparent. He preceded Alderson with the organization and his private sector resume largely mimics Alderson’s when Alderson was plucked from a law firm that was representing the Athletics and, with no baseball operations experience, was named the club’s GM. Ricco is also an attorney and worked in the MLB commissioner’s office before joining the Mets.

The transition would have been relatively seamless and moved forward whenever Alderson decided to leave had the Mets not disintegrated in consecutive years as they did in 2017-18.

Alderson has left the club, ostensibly to treat his recurrence of cancer. Seated next to Jeff Wilpon at the press conference to announce that news, Alderson himself essentially said that if it were up to him, he’d fire himself for the club’s downfall following their 2015-16 postseason appearances. So, Alderson is out and not returning. In his stead, they have a tri-head GM of Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. This is unworkable in the short and long term. With clubs looking to deal with the Mets not knowing whom they should call and how long it will take for them to reach a consensus, the team is in stasis. Since the Mets made their highest value targets – Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard – off-limits barring a loony offer, the changes they did make are cosmetic.

The biggest problem for the Mets has morphed from the appearance of disarray to actual disarray.

On the bright side, the Mets are somewhat lucky in that they’re getting an in the trenches view of how Ricco would function as the fulltime GM. That trial run as the club spokesman and potential final decision maker is not helping his case to be given the job. With every press conference in which he serves as the organizational front man, he goes from “the guy whose voice we never heard” to “the guy whose voice we hope to never hear again.” It’s irrelevant whether he’s been a competent and evenhanded voice behind the scenes. He lacks the infectious personality that will automatically make it seem like he at least has a plan and believes in it and can get others to follow him. It’s clinical. He sounds like a doctor telling a patient that tests reveal a sexually transmitted disease. That is not going to work, especially in New York and specifically with the Mets.

Part of the search for the new GM goes beyond any blueprint he or she presents in an interview. It must be a person who can be sold to the fan base and media simply by mentioning the name. Listing potential names is generally a waste of time and more of a function of market research than anything else. Hiring a person who seems to check all the boxes and serves to placate the fans and media is not enough of a reason. Mickey Callaway has proven that.

Alderson is being blamed for the roster construction and the perceived dilapidation of the organization in general, but Ricco and Ricciardi were present and had a significant amount of sway for the entire time Alderson was there. Minaya was the GM who oversaw the rise and fall of the Mets from 2005-10. Can any one of the three make a case that he is the one who should be entrusted to fix this?

This goes beyond picking a new GM who is salable to the fans and has a background and clearly delineated plan. Because they have already stated their intention to contend in 2019, a new GM who might have wanted to trade away deGrom, Syndergaard and any other player of value to boost the farm system, clear some salary and reboot has already been told before interviewing that there will not be a rebuild. Right there, it puts a potential GM at a disadvantage as he will be walking in with parameters and residue from past failures rather than a clean slate.

Wilpon is another issue. He trusted Alderson enough to leave him alone as much as Wilpon leaves any of his underlings alone, but he had two decades of experience in the game from about every perspective a front office person can have. He’d earned the benefit of the doubt. While Ricco is liked within the organization, the first instinct Wilpon will have is to tighten his grip, not loosen it. Add in Ricco’s poor showing thus far as the team spokesman and it cannot work.

The beneficial aspect to the Mets slide toward what will be close to 100 losses is the urgency to act and willingness to change. It will spark the necessary action of hiring a veteran baseball man with experience and flexibility to adapt. Working the owner is part of the job. With none of the three current baseball men running the club capable of doing it, it is vital they find someone from outside – someone to be the baseball CEO; someone who knows what the hell he’s doing.

No replacing Yoenis Cespedes, so here’s another idea for the Mets

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

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Yoenis Cespedes, set to have surgery on both heels and expected to miss up to 10 months and perhaps more leaves the New York Mets in a predicament of how to replace his production. He has been riddled with injuries since signing his four-year, $110 million contract to remain with the Mets and the team’s fortunes have spiraled in direct proportion with his absences. When he’s played, they’ve been good; when he hasn’t played, they’ve been bad.

The positive aspect to the announcement is the end to the ambiguity. The Mets had functioned with a daily dread that even when he was deemed healthy, he was one step away from another injury that would keep him out for three months.

So, now they know.

Replacing him is a separate matter, especially considering the uncertainty in the front office with the departure of Sandy Alderson, the current tri-head GM of John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, and the club’s unknown strategy and payroll going forward.

There are calls for the Mets to tear down the entire structure and rebuild, but such a position is absurd. Trading the likes of pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Devin Mesoraco and Jerry Blevins is obvious. Players under team control through 2019 – Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores – should be moved if there is a sufficient return, albeit steeper than what they will get for those approaching free agency.

Regarding the idea of trading Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, what sense does that make when there are three different people who are vying to get the top job and no set plan in place?

If the Mets are truly thinking about trading deGrom or Syndergaard, that is a decision that must be made by the new permanent head of baseball operations, whoever that is.

That brings us to how best to move forward if the Mets truly intend on competing in 2019.

Given the structure of the club being built around pitching and the opportunity to get younger, a spin from Alderson-led strategy of slow-footed, feast or famine players who played station to station and did little other than hit occasional home runs, the Mets have an opening to do something that has not been done full tilt since the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s: build a team based on speed and defense with the pitchers to back up that strategy.

The Mets have been notoriously slow in recent years. They have been lacking athleticism, devoid of versatility, and shoddy defensively.

The words “small ball” have been largely extinguished if not outright excommunicated from the game like they’re a toxic disease that only anti-vaccination fanatics fail to see the damage they can do, but with deGrom getting losses or no-decisions in 12 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and surrendered 3 or fewer earned runs, would the Mets not have been better-served to get runners on base in the early innings, push the envelope by stealing bases, bunt them along when appropriate, get a lead and force the other manager’s hand to make desperate moves because they cannot fall behind by one run?

This is contingent on starting pitching – something the Mets have in comparative abundance.

Some have indulged in delusional speculation that with the money the Mets will save via insurance payments for David Wright and now Cespedes, they should go big in this winter’s free agent market by pursuing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. Hypothetically, if the Mets were willing to make that level of expenditure, why would players in demand like Machado or Harper want to join the Mets with the club’s reputation for disarray, dysfunction and injury?

More to the point, the type of players who would fit into the aggressive style of play are available should the club be willing to eschew the glossy signing and go for an actual planned construction with players who can do more than one thing.

Ian Kinsler may be 36 and struggling at the plate in 2018, but he remains a superlative defensive second baseman with speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and hit 20 home runs. He’s a free agent, won’t cost a draft pick, nor ask for a long-term contract.

Billy Hamilton is available and despite his poor OPS, he’s a defensive stalwart in center field who, if turned loose, could easily steal 80 to 100 bases.

With Amed Rosario playing better and more aggressively, Brandon Nimmo’s skill at getting on base, the remaining potential in Michael Conforto, hackers like T.J. Rivera and Jeff McNeil who might not bring the precious walks that sabermetrics advocates pine for, but collect hits, would this type of team have a better chance at competing than the ones the Mets have put on the field in 2017-18?

When the club is slumping offensively and is not hitting home runs, what do they do to score? There’s no stopping speed; there’s no viable defense for the panic that ensues when there’s a runner on base who might steal at any moment and the team is aggressively forcing the action with hitting and running, exhibiting derring-do on the bases and showing fearlessness. In games where they’re not hitting or getting on base, their defense will be a contribution.

Since the Mets have failed in every other attempt to fill in and replace costly players who are hurt; with their annual strategies imploding as if that was their intent, how much worse could they be if they did something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s – and worked – with their most hated rival at the time that twice sabotaged the dominant Mets teams of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

Those Cardinals ran wild on the bases, caught the ball, and won three pennants in six years. This is a preferable strategy to the Mets trading their cost-controlled faces deGrom or Syndergaard for “Random Prospects X, Y and Z” and the team couldn’t be any worse than it is now. They’d certainly be more interesting.

The Nationals, players’ only meetings and automaton managers

MLB

Martinez RizzoWith the Washington Nationals reeling and desperately trying to turn out of their accelerating death spiral, the club held a players’ only meeting after yet another loss. As manager Dave Martinez faces scrutiny for the underachieving club whose championship window is not just closing but is about to be blown out of its frame, he seems at a loss for words with the following comment:

“We were a pretty good team in May. Not very good in June, but we’ll get better.”

“I know we’re going to get better. We’re going to continue, and we’re going to win a lot of games.”

This while the inevitable and perfectly reasonable question is being asked as to whether the Nationals would be in this position right now had they not decided to move on from Dusty Baker for the younger, more pliable and cheaper Martinez.

This is a repeat of the Nationals’ previous attempt to hire the cookie-cutter manager who did what he was told, Matt Williams, to replace the veteran and somewhat headstrong Davey Johnson. To compound the growing sense of “what might have been?”, Johnson came out in his book saying that he was basically an unwilling accomplice to “Incident X” in the Nationals downfall from would-be dynasty to historic underachiever: the 2012 shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.

Even more troubling is Jim Riggleman, the manager who Johnson replaced because he was a veteran caretaker manager whose role was to oversee the rebuild and keep the young players in line, is enjoying a renaissance as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, having turned the club from 110-loss oblivion to playing around .500 ball under his stewardship following their atrocious 3-15 start under Bryan Price.

Martinez epitomizes the preferred manager in today’s game where collaboration takes precedence over competence and experience; where following orders is at or near the top of the job description when it wasn’t even included in the list of requirements before front offices took center stage as the hub around which entire organizations orbit.

To blame Martinez, Mickey Callaway or Paul Molitor for the poor seasons of their clubs and to credit Dave Roberts, Aaron Boone or Gabe Kapler for a club’s success misses the point of how managers are handled – not hired – handled today.

Martinez merely serves as the latest case study of why these new-age managers are largely interchangeable. His statement above is indicative of not knowing what to do while knowing what he’s allowed to do. He’s a figurehead and the players know it. The team meeting is a signal that they’re taking matters into their own hands to stack sandbags and prevent the flood from worsening because, judging by their history with Williams, they’ve seen this natural disaster before and are acting before it’s too late.

This is a grand distance from a Billy Martin explosion with the food table being flung across the room; a Lee Elia expletive-laced rant; or even Jim Leyland screaming at the players and telling the GM – his “boss” – to get the hell out of his office and stop telling him how to do his job and getting away with it.

Don Zimmer once started a team meeting by screaming at his players before coming to a dead stop and telling them that it wasn’t their fault that they stunk and couldn’t play, so there was no reason to yell at them for it.

None of this happens in today’s game even with the remaining veteran managers like Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and Ron Gardenhire who have a certain amount of leeway in dealing with the players.

Disposable managers with entry-level contracts know their place. Martinez appears devoid of passion not due to natural stoicism, but through borderline catatonia that was drilled in as a prerequisite for the job. That’s essentially the logical conclusion of hiring a manager whose role is to take orders and who, should he deviate from that, will be replaced by another manager who takes orders. When the Nationals caved and hired Baker, it was because they could not afford to hire another Williams and Baker was willing to take short money for the opportunity. After two years, two division titles, and two close-call Game 5 losses in the NLDS, the Nationals felt sufficiently emboldened in their arrogance that they were talented enough to win on cruise control and could hire another manager like Williams. The results are eerily similar not just on the field but with the players’ action and reaction.

Matt Harvey: blame and absolution for his Mets Knightfall

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Reds

As Matt Harvey prepares to make his first major league start Friday in Los Angeles for a team other than the New York Mets, insiders and outsiders have established their positons in the debate as to where it went wrong for him in New York.

In general, one side says that Harvey gave everything he could for the Mets and went beyond personal interests to help the team in its pennant-winning season of 2015. The other blames Harvey for his downfall, asserting that relentless partying, selfishness and arrogance did him in.

The Mets have taken the high road after designating Harvey for assignment and subsequently trading him to the Cincinnati Reds for Devin Mesoraco, thanking him and lamenting the disappointing end.

Harvey has been mostly silent but cryptic, implying that he holds animus against the Mets.

There will never be a meeting in the middle for Harvey, the Mets or those who provide outside assessments as to how it went wrong. What should be remembered, however, is that things in life are rarely so simple as to say one side is right and other is wrong. Without partaking in ignorant rumor, innuendo, gossip and the admittedly slanted positions of the participants, it’s possible for Harvey to be justified in his complaints about the Mets and for him to have sowed the seeds for his own collapse independent of the organization and its handling of him.

From the time at which he arrived on the scene as a young, handsome, gifted athlete, Harvey played hard on and off the field. The extent of his partying and lifestyle choices negatively impacting his on-field performance is known only to his closest intimates. It’s quite possible that he simply liked meeting women, seeing his name in the front of the newspaper as well as the back, and stoked the fires of his own reputation without engaging in truly self-destructive behavior. It’s also possible that he did allow his off-field interests to interfere with his preparation and performance. Or it could be somewhere in the middle.

The two extremes need not be mutually exclusive.

The same armchair experts who are analyzing his mechanics, making statements about his physical issues like they know better than the doctors for the Mets and for the Boras Corporation, and seek to know the unknowable are simultaneously engaging in pop psychological analysis regarding what’s really going on in his head.

Perhaps Harvey would have been better off on the field had he shunned a few late nights. But for some athletes, there is nothing worse than sitting home alone trapped in one’s own head and playing and replaying insecurities that can grow pervasive should they be allowed to fester. The same statements that it was Harvey’s nightlife that was the problem emanate from an arena that also blames his struggles on Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and whatever else. There’s no way to know because there’s no alternative but speculation.

From the outside, it seems the Mets stretched the limited number of rules that today’s athletes live under as far as they have for anyone going back to the lawless days of the Davey Johnson/Darryl Strawberry/Dwight Gooden/Keith Hernandez underachievers and overindulgers of the 1980s.

Apart from preemptively trading him, what could they do other than put up with him and his act to maximize his marketability and production before his inevitable departure? The departure came sooner than expected and in circumstances few could have predicted. There’s more than enough blame to go around even if it’s uncertain exactly where to place it.

There are no Dave Duncans to fix a Matt Harvey anymore

MLB, Uncategorized

Duncan

Dave Duncan is still around as a pitching consultant for the Chicago White Sox. At 72, it’s unreasonable to expect him to put forth the time and energy necessary to repeat the wizardry that took unfulfilled talent, the injured, and reclamation projects and make them into Cy Young Award winners, All-Stars and Hall of Famers as he did with Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, LaMarr Hoyt, Dennis Eckersley, Chris Carpenter, Woody Williams, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and countless others.

However, that’s exactly what Matt Harvey needs. Yet there’s no one to do it for him.

Harvey, designated for assignment by the New York Mets on Saturday, is having his career trajectory dissected to determine exactly where it all went wrong. You can find these stories everywhere with all its authors thinking they and they alone have found the secret or basking in the glory of their innate lack of knowledge as to why he came undone.

There’s no definitive answer.

Fixing him is a different matter and that endeavor will be tasked to someone who will have theories as to how to move forward. In consultation with Harvey and his agent Scott Boras, a plan will unfurl. Either it will work or it won’t. Judging by the reality that every organization is essentially working from a similar playbook with pitching coaches no longer left to their devices and their individual instruction as was the case in Duncan’s heyday as Tony La Russa’s aide-de-camp, the odds are that it will make little difference in Harvey’s future.

The days of the Mr. Fix-It of Duncan are over as organizations make their plans in conjunction with medical recommendations, technological advances and the ever-growing group of individual handlers that seemingly all players have.

In the days of Duncan polishing his reputation as baseball’s preeminent pitching guru, he was largely left to his own devices and entrusted with overseeing the pitchers without interference from a phalanx of others. Pitchers often ended up with La Russa and Duncan because they had nowhere else to go and had reached the point in their careers where it was either listen to what Duncan had to say and implement it or no longer have a career. Desperation breeds sudden flexibility. Duncan’s reputation and the number of pitchers he could count as notches on his belt certainly gave him credibility with the egomaniacal and selfish entity known as the professional athlete.

Whether it was a mechanical adjustment, changes to the pitcher’s repertoire or a mental reprogramming, Duncan carried a reputation of fixing the heretofore unfixable. That he had the opportunity to do so stemmed from a confluence of events that are no longer in place. Teams will not entrust any investment to a single individual and that investment will likely have an army of advisors who are also seeking and demand input.

There are pitching coaches who are well-regarded in today’s game. Ray Searage is viewed as the modern Mr. Fix-It, but that has stemmed from a crafted narrative. His own results have fluctuated and if there were fallbacks or failures as was the case with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the shifting of blame has been rapid and largely eliminated any positives his relationship with those pitchers created. There’s no credit for the good without blame for the bad.

John Farrell, Tom House, Dave Righetti, Mickey Callaway – all are well-regarded and have had success, but none will ever have the cachet that Duncan had of taking pitchers who were broken remnants of what they were and pasting them back together.

Duncan is still around and in baseball, but the landscape has changed. What worked before won’t work now, mostly because the outside influences for the likes of Matt Harvey won’t let it.

On Mike Francesa and his return to WFAN in New York

Broadcasting, MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

Francesa screenshot

Mike Francesa’s pending return to WFAN in New York caught many by surprise. An onslaught of criticism has inundated him and the station for the ham-handed way this was handled, that Francesa had his extended “farewell tour” only to stage a return four months later, and he usurped his replacements with little regard to anyone other than himself.

Francesa benefited from the poor showing in the first ratings book from his replacements, “The Afternoon Drive” with Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott, and that the station was still reeling from the firing of morning co-host Craig Carton after his arrest for allegations of being involved in a Ponzi scheme.

This was a perfect storm. The decline in ratings was one thing. The content for the Afternoon Drive show and that they lost to none other than Michael Kay appears to have been the tipping point. For Francesa’s  hard core listeners – of which were and are many – a shrieking storm alert text message on a loop is preferable to listening to Kay. Since there is no other sports afternoon radio talk show in New York, those who cannot stand Kay and didn’t like the Afternoon Drive show were left lamenting WFAN’s inability to keep Francesa from leaving and Francesa for abandoning them.

For Carlin, Gray and Scott, the die was cast early in their brief tenure during the New York Giants’ quarterback controversy when Gray launched into an extended rant as to how an NFL team should develop a quarterback as if she somehow knew more about it than experienced NFL front office folk. No, it wasn’t a Francesa rant when he raved like a lunatic with his ample flesh jiggling and his voice and internal organs straining like he was about to have a volcanic eruption with Diet Coke exploding from every orifice, but it was worse. Francesa was so cocksure in his statements – no matter how idiotic they could be – that he pulled it off. Gray tried a calm, rational approach that failed the “Who are you to be saying this?” test. Francesa’s credibility on such a subjective topic as developing a quarterback is likely not any better than Gray’s, but he sold it better and hand waved away the credibility question like one of his callers.

Carlin tried too hard to generate controversy with outrageous statements.

Scott clearly lacked conviction as he spouted memorized lines about sports other than football.

It didn’t work. Like the nightmarish experiment of David Lee Roth replacing Howard Stern, there were two choices:

1) Continue moving forward, refuse to acknowledge a mistake and let the audience wither away to nothing.

2) Cut the ties and make a move that was financially motivated to be sure, but was also adhering to what the audience wants.

The purpose of a radio show is to generate listeners. The listeners are gauged by ratings and the ratings are an overriding factor in advertising rates. Losing listeners means lower advertising rates and lower revenue. After the loss of Carton and the station’s apparent rudderless foray into the unknown, they had no alternative. It’s fair to criticize the station for how it was done, but arguing that it was not a sound business decision is putting what’s deemed to be “fair” ahead of what’s necessary to effectively run a business.

Francesa is not innocent here. It would not be the essence of Francesa if he didn’t try to spin his return into something he was “forced” to do as he made bizarre allusions to a conspiracy to keep him off the air as if he’s the last line of defense against a cabal of shadowy powerbrokers for which his return sabotages a quest for universal domination.

Somewhere inside him, when getting past the rancid soda, clogged arteries, calcified chunks of ego and goo, presumably he knows this. And he doesn’t care.

To say that he couldn’t find a new radio home is difficult to believe. He certainly could have gone to Sirius or gotten a job on a network talking about the NFL and college basketball. The motivation to go back to his radio home could have been the money; it could have been the exposure; or it could have been that he finally got what he wanted from WFAN and his wife was sick of him being around the house micromanaging her all day when she’d grown accustomed to him being gone.

It doesn’t matter. His fans don’t care.

Those rolling their eyes at the extended farewell tour and his subsequent return are ignoring the reality that Francesa has functioned for his entire career – if not his entire life – thinking that he was worthy of feting and fealty just for existing; simply because he granted his listeners the generosity of sharing his wisdom with them. By that metric, he should have been idolized whether he was retiring or not.

As for show content, this was a no-brainer. Like him or not, there are few voices in the media who have that cachet of “I wonder what he/she will say about this?”

Francesa has it.

Wondering about how Aaron Boone is using his bullpen for the Yankees?

What’s wrong with Matt Harvey and what the Mets should do?

If there’s a real chance that Tom Brady will retire and that a rift between him and Bill Belichick will sabotage the Patriots?

Whom the Knicks should hire as head coach?

If the Giants will select Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, a quarterback, or trade down with the second overall pick in the coming NFL draft?

What the New York Jets will do after having traded up to get the third pick?

Francesa will tell you. You’ll listen. You might agree. You might disagree. You might loathe his arrogance and refusal to admit to ever having been wrong about anything, ever. He’s heading back to WFAN because the station needs him and he needs the forum. How it was done is secondary and after all the conversation, nobody cares if they get the show they want. That show is Francesa’s show.