Keys to 2013: Baltimore Orioles

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Starting Pitching Key: Chris Tillman

A lack of command kept Tillman bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors. Acquired in the trade that just keeps on giving that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners, Tillman will turn 25 in April and after his performance following his July recall, may have taken the next step from prospect to legitimate big league starter. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a changeup, a slow curve, a slider and a cutter, Tillman has the variety of pitches to win 15 games and be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

He suffered from elbow inflammation that cost him two weeks in September. The Orioles weak spot in 2012 was their starting rotation and they’re not sneaking up on anyone this year. With Tillman and Dylan Bundy on the way, they could mitigate that issue while not having made any big acquisitions in the off-season.

Relief Pitching Key: Brian Matusz

The Orioles are giving Matusz a chance to regain his spot in the starting rotation, but I question whether their hearts are really in it. He’s shown flashes of being a useful starter, but after he was moved to the bullpen last season, he was a different pitcher. Perhaps it has to sink in that he’s better-served going through a lineup once and can cobble together a more successful career out of the bullpen. Starters—even bad ones—make much more money than good relievers, so for a 26-year-old, that’s not an easy thing to reconcile, but that’s not the Orioles’ problem and if they need Matusz more in the bullpen and he can help them be a better team, that’s where he needs to be.

Offensive Key: Manny Machado

Machado won’t turn 21 until July, but the potential and comparisons to Alex Rodriguez make him an offensive linchpin for the 2013 Orioles. He only walked 9 times in 202 plate appearances last season, but he doesn’t strike out. Once Machado matures and fills out, he’ll be a solid 210 pounds and hit the ball out of the park more frequently. The Orioles can pencil in what they’ll get from their power bats Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy—but Machado’s rapid development will significantly improve their runs scored.

Defensive Key: J.J. Hardy

Hardy won a long overdue Gold Glove for his work at shortstop last season and while he provides pop at the plate, his main contribution is with his glove. Because Hardy’s there, Machado will play third base and the Orioles will have what will possibly be the rangiest left side of the infield in baseball. It’s a comfort for the pitchers to know that they have someone covering the most ground on the infield at shortstop, allowing them to pitch to contact without worrying about routine grounders getting through.

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2012 Award Winners—American League Manager of the Year

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A few weeks ago, I listed my picks for the Cy Young Award in each league. Along with that, I listed who I picked before the season and who I think will actually wind up winning. You can read it here.

Now let’s look at the intense debate for Manager of the Year in the American League.

The two candidates for the award are the Orioles’ Buck Showalter and the Athletics’ Bob Melvin. You can’t go wrong with either. For my purposes, I have to go point-by-point to see if I can find an advantage to tip the argument in the favor of one or the other and come to a conclusion that makes sense.

The Orioles started the season with an $84 million payroll; the Athletics started with a $52 million payroll. Showalter had more proven veteran talent. With Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds, the Orioles’ lineup was going to score runs. Their question marks were in the starting rotation and with bullpen depth. Showalter worked his way around not having one starting pitcher throw 200 innings. It was his deft use of the bullpen that carried the Orioles through.

Melvin was working with a patchwork quilt of pitchers comprised of youth (Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin); journeyman veterans (Bartolo Colon); and the injury prone (Brandon McCarthy). The bullpen was also in flux as he bounced back and forth between Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour as his closer. The lineup was similarly makeshift with unknowns (Yoenis Cespedes); youngsters who’d never gotten a chance (Josh Reddick); and other clubs’ refuse (Brandon Moss, Brandon Inge).

Neither team had any expectations before the season started. Both clubs were in divisions where they were picked—across the board—to finish in or close to last place. The American League East and American League West had powerhouses with massive payrolls, star power and history behind them. But the Orioles and A’s overcame their disadvantages to make the playoffs.

Is there a fair way to break what is essentially a tie in making a pick?

Yes.

The one method I can think of to determine who should win is by looking at the managers, but switching places and determining whether Showalter or Melvin would have been capable of replicating the success they had with their club and mimicked it with the other club.

Could Showalter have done the job that Melvin did with the Athletics?

Could Melvin have done the job that Showalter did with the Orioles?

Showalter has long been a manager who maximizes the talent he has on the roster with his attention to detail, flexibility, and perceived strategic wizardry, but his teams have sometimes wilted under his thumb and tuned him out. Showalter’s unique maneuverings have invited quizzical looks and accurate criticism. One example was the decision not to hold Mark Teixeira on first base in the fifth inning of a scoreless tie in game 5. Teixeira stole second and scored on a Raul Ibanez single. Under no circumstances should Showalter have done that. Teixeira was running well on his injured calf and the risk wasn’t worth the reward to let him take the base. It cost them dearly, and because he’s Showalter, he gets away with it. It was a mistake.

In every one of his managerial stops, Melvin has been an underappreciated manager to develop youngsters and let them have a chance to play without scaring or pressuring them into errors, physical and mental. His strategies are conventional. He lets his players play. The players like playing for him and play hard for him. Every time his teams have underachieved, it hasn’t been Melvin’s fault. That’s not the case with Showalter as the Diamondbacks and Rangers grew stagnant with him managing their teams. On that basis, Melvin’s style would’ve translated better to the Orioles than Showalter’s to the Athletics.

In the end, it comes down to who was faced with the bigger disadvantages to start the season and overcame them; who had more proven talent on his roster; and who held the ship together when the circumstances were bleakest. The Orioles were never under .500 in 2012; the A’s were 9 games under and 13 games out of first place in June and came back to win the division.

Based on these factors, the Manager of the Year is Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics.

In the preseason I picked Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians to win the award.

Before any laughter, it gets worse. The following is 100% true: Prior to making a last-minute change, I had initially written that the Indians were going to be a disappointment after positive preseason hope and hype and that Acta would be fired and replaced by Sandy Alomar, Jr. But I changed my mind and picked the Indians to win the AL Central (mistake number 1), and selected Acta as Manager of the Year (mistake number 2).

I believe that in spite of Melvin’s slightly better case as the recipient, Showalter is going to win.

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American League Contenders Remaining Schedules—Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles

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The Rays were expected to be here and the Orioles weren’t. Yesterday I looked at the Yankees schedule, now here are their two competitors in the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays vs Orioles, Sept. 11-13 at Tampa; Oct. 1-3 at Baltimore

This is being seen as a benefit for the Yankees because the two teams in hot pursuit are playing one another six times while the Yankees supposedly have the “weakest” schedule of all the contenders. On paper, that may be so, but this Yankees team isn’t very good. They’re playing Steve Pearce at first base for the next two weeks (and I suspect that the “good” news on Mark Teixeira was a best case scenario; I doubt we’ll see Teixeira again as anything other than a pinch hitter this season). They’ve made a big show of recalling prospect Melky Mesa. Mesa is 25 and batted .230 in 33 games in Triple A. This is your savior. They’re anticipating the return of Andy Pettitte with the memories of 15 years ago swimming in their panicky heads. If the Yankees were at full strength, the weakness of schedule would be relevant, but they’re not, so it’s mitigated to a large degree.

As for the Rays and Orioles, one of the teams is going to win at least 2 of the 3 games this week. If it’s the Rays, they’ll come into Yankee Stadium this weekend looking to overtake the Yankees; if it’s the Orioles, they’ll still be right on the Yankees’ heels or will have caught them.

The Rays and Orioles have split their 12 games against one another so far. The Rays have a decided pitching advantage and the Orioles are trying to piece their offense together after losing Nick Markakis to a broken thumb. Their starting pitching is short. The Rays are going to pass the Orioles by the time the season is over.

Rays vs Yankees, Sept. 14-16 at Yankee Stadium

The Rays have their pitching set up for this weekend. David Price will pitch against CC Sabathia (whose diminished fastball was the impetus for the dustup between Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Joel Sherman of the NY Post). I would expect Pettitte to pitch Saturday against James Shields, and Alex Cobb will go against Hiroki Kuroda on Sunday.

By Sunday night, the Rays could be in first place in the AL East with the Yankees tied with the Orioles and Angels for the second Wild Card spot and behind the Athletics.

Rays vs Red Sox, Sept. 17-20 in Tampa; Sept. 25-26 at Boston

I’m not accusing the Red Sox of laying down for the Rays and Orioles and playing hard against the Yankees, but the players who remain from the Yankees-Red Sox wars from so long ago know that if they’re able to significantly damage the Yankees’ playoff hopes—and everyone had better understand that if the Yankees don’t win the division, they’re not making the playoffs—they’re going to do everything possible to make it happen. The compromised Red Sox are an awful team, but they haven’t forgotten that the Yankees didn’t play their regulars in their final series with the Rays in 2011 and that contributed to the Red Sox being bounced from the post-season and sent them into this downward spiral.

Put it this way: the Red Sox would prefer to see anyone other than the Yankees in the playoffs this season and their play will reflect it. The front office would prefer it as well.

Rays vs Blue Jays, Sept. 21-23 in Tampa

The Blue Jays are playing hard down the stretch and the two clubs split a four-game series in Toronto a week-and-a-half ago.

The Blue Jays record is bad, but they can hit the ball out of the park and have two talented starters in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, plus Carlos Villanueva who should’ve been in the starting rotation from the beginning of the season. This isn’t a gimme series.

Rays vs White Sox, Sept. 27-30 at Chicago

Either the White Sox or the Tigers are going to win the AL Central and neither team—barring a catastrophe on the East or West Coasts—is making it to the Wild Card play-in game. The Tigers have shown zero consistency in 2012, but they have a weak schedule through the end of the season. It may not matter though. If they don’t run off a winning streak, the AL Central race could be over by the time the Rays come to Chicago to play the White Sox. Then the Yankees are going to be really desperate. No one in baseball wants to help them and they’re increasingly incapable of helping themselves.

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Baltimore Orioles

The two series against the Rays are discussed above.

Orioles vs Athletics, Sept. 14-16 at Oakland

The A’s are continuing their run toward the playoffs. It’s at least as surprising as that of the Orioles, if not more. They have a deeper starting rotation, a good bullpen, and can score with the Orioles. The A’s are now ahead of the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays. They’re currently playing the Angels, who’ve launched themselves back into contention as well.

There’s an opportunity for the Orioles to make up ground on the Yankees and/or Rays and the Athletics this weekend.

Orioles vs Mariners, Sept. 17-19 at Seattle

The Mariners can’t hit, but they have a lot of starting pitching and would like to finish the season at .500. That said, I would expect the Orioles to go into Seattle and take at least two games.

Orioles vs Red Sox, Sept. 21-23 at Boston; Sept. 28-30 in Baltimore

The Red Sox don’t like the Orioles, but they hate the Yankees. We might see a lot of young players getting a “look” vs the Orioles that won’t get a “look” vs the Yankees.

All’s fair.

Orioles vs Blue Jays, Sept. 24 (doubleheader)-26 in Baltimore

That’s four games. The Orioles are 9-5 against the Blue Jays this season and the Blue Jays also wouldn’t mind whacking the Yankees out of the playoffs. They might choose to “look” at some youngsters just like the Red Sox.

The team in the driver’s seat here is the Rays. If they have a record of say, 16-6, they’re going to win the AL East. For the Orioles, they’ll have to win 13 games and I don’t know if they’re going to. 11-11 is more likely and if that’s the case, that would mean that they didn’t help the Yankees against the Rays or the A’s.

Either way, the schedule that’s being portrayed as the Yankees’ lifeline, is anything but.

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American League East Predicted Standings

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American League East Predicted Standings:

1. New York Yankees                        94       68         —

2. Toronto Blue Jays                         87       75           7

3. Tampa Bay Rays                            85       77           9

4. Boston Red Sox                             81       81          13

5. Baltimore Orioles                           65       97          29

New York Yankees

The Yankees benefited greatly from the lack of decisively bold movements and drastic improvements of their rivals. While they’re repeating prior mistakes with paranoia and pitcher-babying, they have the offense, abundance of starting pitching and deep bullpen to again rise to the top of the division.

The bench is something that will have to be addressed as the season moves along because Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones aren’t suitable backups regardless of the Yankees’ propaganda machine unequivocally stating that they are.

Expect Alex Rodriguez to have a comeback season and hope that the overwhelming pressure they’re putting on Michael Pineda doesn’t haunt them.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays needed a name arm or a name bat to be a preseason favorite and didn’t get either.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t contend; it means that they’re going to have to get big seasons from young players Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Henderson Alvarez. Sergio Santos must prove he can close for a full season and throw strikes; Brandon Morrow has to develop into a trustworthy top-tier starter without restrictions.

I picked Jose Bautista as the AL MVP.

Tampa Bay Rays

Again forced to scrounge around the bargain bins, they reunited with Carlos Pena to increase their power at first base. The Rays have been good and lucky in finding bullpen arms who fit into their system and rejuvenate stalled careers—running a club that way is rife with risks that eventually it’s not going to work.

B.J. Upton will play like a maniac all season as he heads for free agency.

With their young starting pitching, they could make it to the World Series or falter and be out of contention to put such stars as Upton, James Shields and David Price in play for a trade at mid-season.

I’ve got them somewhere in the middle.

Boston Red Sox

It’s chaos.

Who’s running things?

Is there any cohesion between John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine?

At least when Theo Epstein was there—like it or not—you knew there was one person mostly in charge; now with Theo gone and Lucchino grasping for power; Henry providing self-protectionist alibis; Cherington marginalized; and Bobby V being…Bobby V, there are going to be voices, whispers, Machiavellian power plays and rampant dysfunction the likes which have not been seen in Boston since 2001.

Are they making the types of moves that laid the foundation of their annual championship contending teams from 2003-2010 or are they desperately trying to patch holes and find “name” people to replace the “name” people who are gone?

I like Valentine, but his polarizing personality can go both ways. The Red Sox starting rotation is short and they have black spots in their lineup at shortstop, right field and possibly catcher.

It’s a time bomb with Valentine and Josh Beckett.

Baltimore Orioles

I don’t hear much about Buck Showalter’s status as a miracle worker after the team came apart last season.

Following a hot start, they reverted to being the Orioles of the past 15 years.

Dan Duquette has received unfair criticism and there’s a lack of context in the good work he did as the Expos’ and Red Sox’ GM, but a lack of talent is a lack of talent; an impossible division is an impossible division; and until they develop their young arms and stick to a strategy for the long term, there’s not much that will change in Baltimore.

Duquette must be allowed to take the marketable players—notably Nick Markakis and Adam Jones—and see what types of offers he can get for them to replenish the system with multiple players. They’re not going to do the Orioles any good as Orioles.

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

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

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Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

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Showalter-Duquette Philosophies Mesh Neatly For The Orioles

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The histories of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette (provided the negotiations for Duquette to take over as Orioles GM don’t fall apart) bode well for the club to improve to respectability and contention within the next three years.

Showalter’s and Duquette’s preferences in building an organization center around having a big-time starter at the top of the rotation to gobble innings and be the anchor; having a lineup led by one basher and other, less-recognizable boppers; and a versatile array of background players who know their roles rather than the one star who has too much say-so in team matters; both like having relatively inexpensive and replaceable to fill in around stars.

With the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, Showalter had that one starter he could count on to front the rotation and provide quality every fifth day. Jimmy Key wasn’t a prototypical ace when the Yankees signed him, but that’s what he was for his tenure under Showalter; he had Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks; and rode Kenny Rogers with the Rangers.

Duquette had Pedro Martinez with the Expos and Red Sox—and acquired him twice in masterful trades for which he surrendered very little. He loaded his lineup with Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra to function as the centerpieces while acquiring underappreciated and patient mashers like Jose Canseco and using John Valentin and Tim Naehring whose on base skills weren’t widely known or paid for.

Duquette liked power/on base men before it became trendy.

Showalter favored having the egoless grinders filling his lineup and made it a point to get rid of Alex Rodriguez because he was too much of a diva and ate up a vast chunk of the payroll which could’ve been allocated for multiple pieces. Duquette had the nerve to let both Roger Clemens and Vaughn leave as free agents and was right in both cases.

The philosophies parallel and provide a window into what they’ll do moving forward.

The Orioles don’t have that veteran arm at the top of the rotation and that’s the first order of business. Nick Markakis could be a chip to get that arm. I don’t get the impression that the Giants are going to trade Matt Cain and the idea that they’ll trade Tim Lincecum is ridiculous, but that’s the type of arm the Orioles are going to pursue.

Would the Phillies listen on Cole Hamels? Why not ask?

Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics might be on the block. Mat Latos was born in nearby Virginia (for what that’s worth since he went to high school in Florida), would the Padres be desperate enough for a power bat that they’d consider dealing him?

Duquette and Showalter are going to get a big time starting pitcher from somewhere.

As for a power bat, there are several available. Prince Fielder might hit 60 home runs playing for the Orioles; they could bring in the always underrated Josh Willingham to replace Markakis if they trade him; and sign Edwin Jackson for another 200-inning arm.

Showalter and Duquette find closers rather than pay for them, so a younger pitcher or trying to get a Grant Balfour along with Gonzalez would be an inexpensive, hard-throwing option who’s never gotten a legitimate chance to be a semi-full time closer.

Because of the known strategies of both Showalter and Duquette, they’re going to work well together, be gutsy and aggressive and make the Orioles exponentially better by 2013 as long as there’s no interference from ownership.

Showalter was a desperation hire and was given large influence in club construction; Duquette appears to be an “oh, him” selection after others refused the job or backed out of interviews.

But it’s a good combination that’s going to work.

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Showalter For Manager/GM?

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It has been whispered that the Orioles should do something decidedly old-school and name manager Buck Showalter GM as well.

There hasn’t been a manager/GM since Bobby Cox went back on the field to replace Russ Nixon as Braves manager in 1990 and that didn’t last long as John Schuerholz was hired as GM after that season and Cox stayed on the field for…well, forever.

Jack McKeon was the GM/manager for the Padres in the late-1980s; Whitey Herzog did it for the Cardinals in the early 1980s.

It’s all but impossible to do both jobs correctly in today’s game of GM-rock stardom. There’s really no way Showalter could do it and maintain his sanity and/or health.

That said, there’s a way to go about it if the Orioles want to give Showalter final say in the direction of the franchise.

Herzog joined the Cardinals as manager in 1980; late in the season they fired GM John Clairborne and named Herzog GM as well. Completely out of contention, Herzog handed the managerial reins to Red Schoendienst for the rest of 1980. Herzog didn’t do both jobs simultaneously. That’s a good thing given Herzog’s penchant for saying whatever popped into his head without concern as to how it was framed or perceived (think J.P. Ricciardi to the tenth power); it would be a PR disaster in today’s game.

But he was able to find players and he’d do the same thing today.

Showalter can do it in a similar fashion if he steps off the field because he’s more tight-lipped and manipulative of the media than Herzog was. Herzog was a gruff, intimidating type; Showalter is more nuanced and calculating.

Herzog built the Cardinals for the spacious dimensions of Busch Stadium with improved speed by getting Lonnie Smith, and installing Tommy Herr at 2nd base; he shored up the defense and attitude by trading Garry Templeton for Ozzie Smith; traded for a defensive minded catcher, Darrell Porter; brought in pitchers who threw strikes like Joaquin Andujar; and got the game’s best closer in Bruce Sutter.

By 1982, the Cardinals were World Series champions and won two more pennants under Herzog in the next five years.

Could Showalter do that as GM?

The Orioles can hit, but their top-to-bottom pitching is so awful that they’re going to have to consider trading some of their young bats Nick Markakis or Adam Jones to find some arms. Those arms would have to strike people out or coax ground balls to mitigate the bandbox of Camden Yards; he needs to improve the bullpen and the infield defense.

Trading talented bats like Jones, Markakis and Matt Wieters are not easy decisions to make.

If someone is going to make that call, it has to be the man who’s entrusted with the future of the organization and is completely responsible for what happens, good or bad.

Showalter would have to stop managing for a time to do the GM job properly; he’d have to be given an autonomy that owner Peter Angelos might balk at providing, but if the Orioles are going to have Showalter give his approval to whom is hired as the new GM, it’s probably easier to let Showalter do it while the Orioles are rebuilding and then have him go back on the field when he has the players he wants.

That’s the only way it could work.

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Showalter’s Yankees Comments Are Ridiculous

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Buck Showalter‘s image was that of a strategic wizard; a baseball hard-liner; an organization-builder and Mr. Fix-It who doesn’t tolerate small transgressions like a player wearing his socks at a different specification than Showalter deems appropriate. Nor does he allow large errors—mental and physical—like failing to hit the cut-off man, missing a sign or not running hard to first base.

It was the focus on “small stuff” like the socks that eventually grated on his veterans’ nerves and left his clubs tight and weary of the nitpicking. The Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers were all better because of his presence…and they were all better after he left.

With the Orioles, there was a “miracle-worker” aspect to the way the team went on a 34-23 run over the final two months of the 2010 season when he was hired to replace Dave Trembley; it was only exacerbated when they won 6 of their first 7 games to start the 2011 season.

Some actually expected this Orioles team to contend in the American League East with the Yankees and Red Sox still powerhouses and the Rays and Blue Jays having greater strengths of their own.

It didn’t take long for the Orioles to fall into a familiar fit of losing. Now they stand in their familiar terrain of last place, 25 games under .500 amid questions as to whom is going to run the club from the front office with the likelihood that Andy MacPhail will not return.

There is promise in Baltimore because of Showalter and the young players they’ve accumulated and acquired. Despite terrible records, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman have good arms; their offense is productive with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters; and Showalter can strategically manipulate his team to a few more wins than they’d have under a lesser manager.

Whether he was reeling from the suicide of Mike Flanagan or was, in part, frustrated by the way the season came apart after the accolades and promise, Showalter’s comments about the Yankees being disrespectful to Flanagan for preferring to play a doubleheader in advance of Hurricane Irene on Friday rather than schedule the make-up for early September is ridiculous to the point of embarrassing.

The entire quote follows:

“First of all, I felt that some of the stuff was a little disrespectful to Flanny quite frankly. That didn’t sit with me very well. I can tell you that. We didn’t say much — I think we had an April rainout there — and they just told us when we were playing. We were Ok with that. Like I told you the other day, you tell us when we’re playing, we’ll play. The whole scheme of life, the things that really consume you. We understand that sometimes our opinions on things are not relevant. They come to me when there is two options and talk about it from a baseball standpoint. Every club does that. But some of it kind of has a feeling of [hypocrisy]. I don’t know. I don’t dwell on it. Their opinion on what the Baltimore Orioles should do for their fans and for their organization isn’t really that relevant to me personally. I can tell you that. We’ll do what’s best for our fans and for our organization and we expect it back that they’re going to do the same on their side.”

Orioles director of communications Greg Bader added the following (clipped from The Sporting News):

“Are we really still talking about this? We’ve just seen a hurricane come through this region which has caused millions to be without power, tens of millions of dollars in property damage and even several deaths,” Bader told ESPNNewYork.com in an email Sunday night. “We’ve got people out there literally trying to put their lives back together and yet there are some still worrying about a rescheduled game time?”

How the Yankees preferring to keep one of their two scheduled days off for September turned into a show of “disrespect” for Flanagan and a lack of concern for people whose lives were impact by the hurricane is a mystery to me.

That Showalter and Bader would bring other issues into the debate as if the Yankees were sitting around and diabolically scheming to sabotage the Flanagan tribute and simultaneously downplaying the severity of the hurricane indicates a tone-deafness bordering on the stupid.

The Orioles need follow their own rules of propriety and put things in perspective. They should let it go before saying something else idiotic and looking more petty than they do now.

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Hating Frenchy—The Jeff Francoeur Experience

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

The Royals signed outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a 2-year contract extension worth $13 million. This eliminates a $4 million mutual option he had with the club for 2012; he’d signed a 1-year guaranteed deal for $2.5 million this past winter.

The responses to the Francouer extension were clear the moment it was announced—and that was before the dollar amount was disclosed.

HATE!!!!

It returned to the loathing he engendered from his days with the Braves and Mets; the way he never “got it” that he was supposed to learn to play a different way from what he’d been his whole life and was enabled by the Braves to do; that he rejected a contract extension with the Braves because he wanted more money; that he complained about being platooned by the Mets; that he turned down offers from better clubs like the Phillies to sign with Royals, where he’d have more of a chance to play.

The hatred of Francoeur is visceral, intense, irrational and absurd.

Before getting into what he was and railing against him due to past transgressions, how about looking at the year he’s having with the Royals?

Francoeur’s well on his way to having nearly 70 extra base hits and close to 30 stolen bases; his batting average is a respectable .277 and his on base percentage is acceptable (for him) at .329. Along with his defense and arm in right field, is this not good enough?

If it was anyone other than Francoeur, it would be; but because it’s him, anything he says and does becomes fodder to rehash what’s happened in his career.

Is 2-years and $13 million out of line for that production?

Francoeur isn’t going to suddenly learn patience and become a hitter who can get on base at a 35% clip. If you know that going in, why complain about it when he fulfills the expectations of what he is.

Considering the Royals future is so bright with offensive players Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon in the lineup, is it so awful to have Francoeur as a background player at the bottom of the lineup?

Would the Royals have been able to find someone who would put up markedly better numbers at that price in this winter’s free agent class?

The available outfielders via free agency who are viable alternatives are the following: Josh Willingham; David DeJesus; Michael Cuddyer; J.D. Drew; Lance Berkman; and Kosuke Fukudome. You can see the entire list here.

Via trade, presumably Ichiro Suzuki, B.J. Upton and Andre Ethier will be on the block. Going for the deep strike, they could look at the likes of Jay Bruce, Nick Markakis or Logan Morrison to see if their respective clubs are looking to do something drastic.

But examine all those players.

Are any of the free agents going to be worth the money that they’d cost in comparison to Frenchy? Getting the players I mentioned in trades either won’t be a major upgrade or are going to be ridiculously expensive in terms of what the Royals would have to give up to get them.

So why shouldn’t the Royals keep Frenchy?

As for the other criticisms, attacking him for turning down the Braves contract offer and costing himself a lot of money was his decision; he felt he could’ve gotten more than their offer; he invested in himself and lost.

He was a limited player with the Braves and Mets and appears to have found a home in Kansas City. It’s not affecting either of his former clubs with whom he spent substantial time; nor is it bothering the Rangers.

The Royals take him for what he is; he’s played well this year; and he’s signed what’s an affordable contract. If anyone has an issue with that, the problem is with them and not Jeff Francoeur.

Get over it.

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You All Do Realize It’s Hunter Pence, Right?

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Trade Rumors

The packages I’m seeing bounced around as being offered for Hunter Pence are mind-boggling.

The Phillies are ready to give up two and maybe three prospects for him including Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and/or Domonic Brown?

The Braves are supposedly in on Pence as well but aren’t going overboard with the prospects as the Phillies are.

As I’ve said repeatedly I don’t put much stock in rumors—they could be smokescreens or outright fabrications—but use your own mind. Check this link on MLBTradeRumors regarding Pence and what do you see? You see about 10 different versions of the same story all changed within a very short timeframe. I don’t blame MLBTradeRumors—they’re a clearinghouse for this stuff putting it all in one place; I blame the sources and purveyors of this nonsense, all of whom are in cahoots to scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

But one thing is being missed in all of this.

It’s Hunter Pence.

He’s a pretty good player. That’s it. He’s consistent in his power and overall game; he can run; he’s good defensively with deceptively strong and accurate arm considering the fact that he throws like there’s something wrong with him physically (he’s awkward) or mentally (his eyes are deer-in-the-headlights wide).

He doesn’t strike out an absurd amount and doesn’t walk. Pence is arbitration eligible after this year and a free agent after 2013. He’s a useful piece and a good guy.

He’s not worth the Phillies offer.

If the Phillies hold off until after the season, the packages that are being discussed could yield a superstar player who may be too costly for his current team or is disgruntled and wants out. Of course that type of player will be more financially expensive than Pence, who they’ll have under team control for the next 2 1/2 years, but it’s a lot to give up for a supporting player. That’s what Pence is.

If I were surrendering that package, I’d approach the Marlins about Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison or Mike Stanton before going after Pence; go to the Rays and ask about Evan Longoria—who knows what they’ll say? How about the Orioles and Nick Markakis? The Dodgers about Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp?

Any of these players would be preferable to Pence and might be obtainable with the package of Singleton, Cosart and Brown.

Much like the decision Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. made in December of 2009 to trade Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and “replenish” the Phillies system, it wasn’t well-thought-out, nor was it smart.

You’ll notice that none of the young players the Phillies got in that trade—Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez—are being discussed in these Pence scenarios.

The Phillies need to step back and think before pulling the trigger on a good bat when what they’re giving up could get them a great bat if they wait.

They’re making a mistake. Again.

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