Masahiro Tanaka: Full Analysis, Video and Predictions

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Masahiro Tanaka has been posted and teams are scrambling to get their hands on the 25-year-old Japanese star. Like most hot items, though, is it availability that’s spurring the interest? Is it hype? Is it his gaudy 24-0 record pitching for Rakuten in 2013? Is it his ability? Or is it a combination of a multitude of factors that Tanaka and his new U.S. agent Casey Close are going to exploit to extract every last penny out of MLB clubs?

The loudest shrieks in favor of Tanaka aren’t based on any analysis. “I want Tanaka!” is not analysis and it’s based on nothing. So let’s take a look at the numerous positives and negatives of the Japanese sensation that could wind up being the next Yu Darvish or the next Kei Igawa.

Mechanics

You notice the different teaching techniques with every Japanese pitcher that makes the trek to North America. They step straight back as pitchers are supposed to to maximize leverage toward the plate. Many Americanized pitchers don’t step straight back. They move to the side or at a diagonal angle. The Japanese pitchers will bring their arms above their head and hesitate as if they’re making sure all their weight is on the lead leg before they move forward. Then they’ll very quickly and all in one motion pivot on the rubber, lift their legs and they bring their arms down, separate ball from glove and fire. Many have what appears to be a leg-based motion similar to that which was used by Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux.

But are they using their legs?

Looking at Tanaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish among many others, they’re garnering leverage from their lower bodies, but essentially stopping halfway through and using their arms to generate power. With Seaver, he would explode hard off the rubber, using it as a foundation to launch himself toward the hitter. The energy would flow from his lower body all the way up through to his arm. Upon release of the ball, that energy would suddenly be compacted as he bounced and stood straight up. The arm was simply a conduit of that power that was generated by the legs, butt and hips. While Tanaka and the others are contorting their bodies and generating power through their legs, the brunt of the release of the ball falls on their arms because the legs stop working. You can see it when he finishes his release and the leg drags along behind him rather than whipping around after impact. His arm bullwhips as it’s not decelerating with the cushion of the lower legs. He has the flexible front leg Seaver, Ryan and Maddux used, but it’s a middling technique that’s done without completion of the intent of taking stress off the arm.

You’ll hear people who regurgitate scouting terminology and facts as if they have an in-depth knowledge of them. The inverted W and Tanaka’s wrist hook should become such terms you’ll need to understand when looking at Tanaka and whether these issues will affect his long-term health and durability. There’s a profound negativity surrounding the inverted W when the pitcher moves both arms simultaneously into what looks like and upside down W (which leads to the question of why it’s not called an “M”) and guarantees his arm will be in the optimal position when he turns and throws. For pitchers who have trouble maintaining their arm slot and release point when making a big circle with their arms or might have the arm drag behind their bodies when they throw, the inverted W is a checkpoint method to ensure the arm is in the proper position. The only time it’s a problem is if the arm is brought back further than is necessary and it strains the shoulder. If the pitcher raises the elbow above the shoulder, this too can be an issue. Tanaka does neither. Watching a quarterback with proper throwing mechanics is the correct way to use the inverted W. Getting the elbow to shoulder level is the point. There’s no issue with Tanaka there.

As for the wrist hook, it’s not something that can be stopped or fixed. Barry Zito does it and has had a successful career without injury issues to his arm. Rick Sutcliffe and Don Drysdale hooked their wrists as well. With Sutcliffe, it was part of a long and herky-jerky motion that was actually quite smooth. He had arm trouble in his career, but he was a top big league pitcher and quite durable for his 18 year career. Drysdale blew out his shoulder, but he lasted until he was 32 and averaged 237 innings a season with four straight of 300-plus innings. Was it the workload or his mechanics? I’d say it was the workload.

When there is a mechanical problem, it has to be repaired when the pitcher is in his formative years. The longer they throw a certain way, the greater the challenge in “fixing” an issue. It also has to be remembered that a part of the reason pitchers like Sutcliffe were successful was because of his unique throwing motion. Much like it can’t – and shouldn’t – be taught for a pitcher to hook his wrist up toward his elbow, it can’t be changed either once he’s established. Hooking is not going to be a health issue unless it’s a pronounced yank. I don’t see Tanaka yanking the ball.

Analysis: He throws mostly with his arm and I would be concerned about him staying healthy.

Stuff

Tanaka has a mid-90s fastball with good life, a shooting split-finger fastball and a sharp slider. At the very least, no one is manufacturing a story that he throws pitches that either do or don’t exist as was done with Matsuzaka and the gyroball. The gyroball, for the record, is thrown with the wrist turned for a righty pitcher as if he’s waving to the third base dugout. From a righty pitcher, it would appear as a lefty quarterback’s spiral. The problem was Matsuzaka didn’t throw it. Hisashi Iwakuma does throw the gyroball and it’s nasty.

As for Tanaka’s fastball, it’s explosive when he throws it high and hitters will chase it given the downward action of his splitter and slider. His fastball is straight meaning if he doesn’t locate it and isn’t getting his breaking pitches over, he’ll get blasted. His breaking pitches are the key to his success. If hitters are laying off the splitter and his slider’s not in the strike zone, he’ll be forced to come in with his fastball where big league hitters will be waiting.

Analysis: With the velocity and breaking stuff, he certainly has the ability to be a successful, All-Star level pitcher in MLB.

The switching of leagues

In Japan, they tend to adhere more closely to the by-the-book strike zone. With that, Tanaka got high strike calls above the belt that he’s not going to get in MLB. If hitters learn to lay off that high pitch, he’s going to have a problem.

The ball in Japan is smaller than it is in North America. That hasn’t appeared to be a problem with most hurlers who’ve joined MLB and been successful. It’s not something to discount, but not something to worry about either.

Looking at Tanaka’s statistics are silly. A pitcher going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA (an ERA he achieved in both 2011 and 2013) is indicative of a weak-hitting league. When studying a pitcher making the switch from Japan to MLB, the statistics might be a gaudy show to sell a few tickets, but few actual baseball people who know what they’re doing will take it seriously. Igawa was considered a top-flight pitcher in Japan and his stuff was barely capable of being deemed that of a journeyman Triple-A roster filler.

Analysis: Accept the statistical dominance at your own risk.

Workload

Much has been made of how Japanese pitchers are pushed as amateurs and expected to pitch whenever they’re asked to for as long as they’re needed. Two months ago, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in losing game 6 of the Japan Series then closed out game 7 to win the series for Rakuten.

Is this a red flag?

In North America, where pitchers are babied and placed on pitch counts and innings limits seemingly from little league onward, then are tormented by big time college coaches who couldn’t care less about their futures similarly to the workload Tanaka endured, then are placed back on their limits, it would be a problem. In Japan, it’s not unusual for pitchers to be used in ways that would be considered abusive. But that’s the way they’re trained. They’re expected to pitch and there’s no evidence that injuries and pitch counts/innings are correlated because the pitchers who’ve gotten hurt (Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey) were watched while others who weren’t (Maddux, Clayton Kershaw) have stayed healthy. With all the reams of numbers and organizational mandates steeped in randomness as to what keeps pitchers healthy, perhaps it’s all about the individual and his capacity to pitch. Japanese pitchers are conditioned this way and the workload wasn’t a jump from being allowed to throw 100 pitches to suddenly throwing 175 in two days.

Analysis: I wouldn’t worry about it.

Cost

With the changes to the Japanese posting system, Rakuten is guaranteed $20 million. That’s well short of the $51.7 million Nippon got from the Rangers for the rights to Darvish and a severe disappointment to Rakuten. They could have kept Tanaka, but instead chose to acquiesce to the pitcher’s wishes and let him go to MLB.

The new posting rules make more money for the players rather than the teams that are selling him. Darvish received a $56 million contract two years ago. Tanaka is expected to get over $100 million, but I’m expecting the bidding war to reach $130 to $140 million.

Is he worth it?

To hand this pitcher $130 million after the number of Japanese pitchers who’ve come over and failed is crazy. There’s an overemphasis on the fact that he’s a free agent that won’t cost a compensatory draft pick. But he’ll cost an extra $20 million to get his rights. Matt Garza won’t cost a draft pick either because he was traded at mid-season and he’s an established big league pitcher. Is it wise to spend $130 million to get Tanaka even if he’s 75 percent of what he was in Japan? Given the failures of Matsuzaka, Igawa and Hideki Irabu and the success of the less heralded pitchers who’ve come over like Hiroki Kuroda, Hideo Nomo and Iwakuma, the fact is no one knows with any certainty as to what they’re getting. And that’s important.

Is it preferable to pay for potential or to pay for what is known?

Let’s say the Yankees give Tanaka $130 million and he turns out to be an okay third starter. Was it worth it when they could’ve signed Garza and Bronson Arroyo, filled out their rotation with pitchers who are known commodities, kept their draft picks and had an inkling of what they were getting with arms who’ve succeeded in the AL East? Or is it better to go for the potential greatness of Tanaka and face the consequences if he’s Irabu/Igawa-revisited?

Other teams face the same dilemma. The Dodgers have their own 2015 free agent Kershaw to worry about and would like to sign Hanley Ramirez to a contract extension. How would signing Tanaka influence those issues? It’s more important to keep Kershaw than it is to sign Tanaka.

Analysis: I would not give Tanaka $100-130 million.

The pursuit

Tanaka is the first full-blown Japanese free agent with the new posting fee rules and it opens up a larger pool of teams that think they have a shot at getting him. The Yankees and Cubs are known to be hot for him.

The Mariners need another arm and it makes no sense to stop at Robinson Cano and think they’ll contend. Singing him would keep them from needing to gut the system to get David Price and a top three of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Tanaka with Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton would be tough.

The Angels need pitching; the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are interested; the Astros could be sleepers with an owner holding deep pockets and trying to show he’s not a double-talking, money-hungry, arrogant cheapskate; the Rangers are all in for 2014; the Red Sox are always lurking; the Phillies need pitching; and the Orioles need to make a splash.

Analysis: It’s going to come down to the Yankees, Cubs and Mariners.




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Rethinking the GM, Part III—American League West

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Click on these links to read part I and part II.

Texas Rangers

Jon Daniels is a popular and well-respected GM today but that wasn’t the case when he took over for John Hart in October of 2005 and one of the first big trades he made sent Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. That will go down as one of the worst trades in the history of the sport.

If he was able to rebound from that and craft the Rangers into an annual contender with a reasonable payroll and deep farm system while dealing with the alpha-male presence of Nolan Ryan and navigating his way through the financial woes of former owner Tom Hicks, then he’s got something on the ball.

Daniels got the GM job very young at 28 and clearly wasn’t ready for it, but grew into the job and is not a stat guy or scouting guy, but uses every outlet at his disposal and is also able to do the dirty work mentioned earlier to consolidate his power.

Oakland Athletics

Just ignore Moneyball for a moment when thinking about Billy Beane. Look at his body of work without the accolades, best-selling book and ridiculous move to accompany the star status Beane’s cultivated and persona Beane has created and look at his work objectively. Is he a good GM who worked his way up through the ranks from scouting to assistant GM to GM to part owner? Yes. Would he be as lusted after without that ridiculous bit of creative non-fiction known as Moneyball? No.

It can be argued that Moneyball has done an exponential amount of damage in comparison to the good it did in introducing the world at large to statistics that they would not otherwise have realized existed. Due to Moneyball, everyone thinks they can study a spreadsheet, calculate some numbers and suddenly run a big league baseball team. One of the under-reported aspects of Moneyball is that Beane played in the Major Leagues with a nondescript career as a journeyman when he was talented enough to be a superstar. It’s part of the narrative that made the Beane story so fascinating, but now that he’s become this totem many of his worshippers probably aren’t even aware that he played at all.

Beane had a perfect storm when he took over as GM. There had been a brief Sports Illustrated profile of him and his transition for player to scout and he was known in MLB circles as an up-and-comer, but the Athletics were so bad and so consistently bad for several years due to financial constraints that Beane was able to implement the strategies of statistics into his player procurement. It worked because no one else was doing it or paying big money for players who didn’t just get on base, but had undervalued attributes.

Beane’s “genius” has been a media creation. He’s been smart, he’s been lucky and he’s also been unlucky. He’s crafted the image of the brilliantly cold corporate titan when it’s not true. He’s a former player who entered the front office, took advantage of the opportunities presented to him and has been successful. A large part of that is due to the circular nature of Moneyball giving him the freedom and leeway to make bad trades and have half-a-decade of futility in which he blamed everyone but the man in the mirror and still kept his job.

Los Angeles Angels

Jerry Dipoto has two issues that are tarnishing his reputation as a GM. One, people don’t remember that it was Dipoto, functioning as the interim GM of the Diamondbacks after Josh Byrnes was fired in 2010, who made two trades that have paid significant dividends to the current Diamondbacks by acquiring Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs for Dan Haren and getting Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson. Two, he’s overseeing an Angels team that has played better recently but is still in rampant disarray with overpaid, underperforming players; a manager who has had his own power within the organization mitigated by the hiring of Dipoto; and is trying to rebuild the farm system in his own way with scouts he knows and a new school sensibility while the owner wants a championship now and the manager has a contract to 2018. It’s highly doubtful that Dipoto wanted to commit so much money and so many years to the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Dipoto was a journeyman relief pitcher who scouted and worked in many front offices with varying philosophies before getting the Angels job and is a qualified baseball man. It’s difficult to know what he’s wanted to do with the Angels and what’s been forced upon him. If the situation really comes apart, he might be cleared out with the rest of the Angels hierarchy and have to wait to get another opportunity due to the damage done to his reputation with what’s happening with the Angels.

Seattle Mariners

The ice is cracking under the feet of Jack Zduriencik and if he is eventually dismissed he will be a cautionary tale that no one will listen to when anointing the next “genius” by giving credit for that which he had nothing to do with. After the fact, if you ask Zduriencik what his biggest regret is, it’s likely to be that the Mariners had such a luck-filled rise from 101 losses the year before he arrived to 85 wins in his first year on the job. It accelerated the process spurring the trade for Cliff Lee and drastically raised the expectations.

Unsurprisingly the expectations were not met; much of Zduriencik’s subsequent moves have gone wrong and if he is indeed fired, the next GM will likely benefit from the farm system seeds Zduriencik planted. That brings me to the next point: there are GMs who are better-served as assistants, farm directors, scouts, and other lower-level positions in an organization. It may not be as flashy, but is no less important and for all the talk of “GM prospects,” it must be examined whether or not the person will be able to do all aspects of the job as an overseer rather than as an underling.

Houston Astros

Jeff Luhnow is not only getting a pass for the horrific Astros club he’s put together—that is on a level with an expansion team—but for the Cardinals fertile farm system that is continually producing players. The draft is a communal effort and not one person deserves or should receive all of the credit in the same manner that a GM shouldn’t get the blame if drafts go poorly. Luhnow didn’t work his way up in baseball and was a private businessman when Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt hired him. This infuriated the old-school people in the Cardinals organization namely Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan and created factions between the stat people and the scouting people that eventually resulted in Jocketty’s firing. Luhnow also lost the power struggle to LaRussa in the months prior to leaving the Cardinals to take over the Astros. If nothing else, it was the experience in trying to transition into a baseball front office that has shaped Luhnow’s building of his Astros staff and construction of the roster from the top down as he’s got people who are going to do things in the stat-based way and are told before they’re hired how it’s going to be or they’re not going to get the job.

Of course the portrayal of Luhnow as the newest/latest “genius” and musings as to when (not if) he’ll be the subject of the new Moneyball are absurd. In four years he could be in the same position as Zduriencik or he could be Andrew Friedman. Know this: Astros owner Jim Crane is not going to accept failure and if the Luhnow project doesn’t work all the trust and belief that Crane has put into the Luhnow experiment will be quickly forgotten if the team doesn’t show concrete results on the field.

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The Astros Blueprint Begins To Fade

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For the Astros, all of a sudden the blueprint isn’t as simple as plugging a bunch of numbers into the machine and achieving the desired result. With the resignation of CEO George Postolos there’s speculation that the Astros “united front” of rebuilding by detonating the entire organization isn’t as united as it was portrayed to be. There’s also talk that Nolan Ryan now has an opening with the Astros to be the team president since the Rangers have mitigated his CEO role and he was unhappy about it.

To put an end to the speculation on both ends, Postolos is not a baseball guy. He’s a business guy who assisted Astros owner Jim Crane in getting the franchise. Losing him is irrelevant.

Ryan has ties to the Astros fans from his days pitching for them, but think about it logically: He would be leaving the Rangers because his say-so was supposedly undermined by the promotion of GM Jon Daniels to head of baseball operations and Ryan is now seen as a figurehead, but going to the Astros and working for GM Jeff Luhnow and placating the fans who are angry at the team being so supernaturally terrible would be the epitome of a figurehead move. Luhnow certainly wouldn’t listen to Ryan’s old-school baseball theories and the stat people in the front office would roll their eyes at him when he was out of the room. It wouldn’t be a lateral move, but a step down into the “old man” status he so clearly loathes. In actuality, the one place aside from public relations in which Ryan could help the Astros is on the mound. Since he could throw 90-mph years after his retirement, there’s a pretty good chance that he could still throw in the 80s even at age 66 and would have the pitching savvy to do better than what the Astros are currently tossing out there.

Dismissing the departure of Postolos and the talk of hiring Ryan, the Astros are coming to the inevitable conclusion that the fans being onboard with this expansion-style rebuild was fleeting. They’re not going to pay to see a product that is so blatantly and intentionally not of Major League quality, nor are they going to sit happily while the owner scoffs at the fans wanting him to spend more money to at least make the team cosmetically better. It’s easy to draw up the plan for a teardown and reconstruction without accounting for the blowback from such a decision. There’s support for what Luhnow and Crane are doing and that support will not waver in places like the halls of Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law’s house, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they want with the fans merrily going along with it sans complaints. Ryan might quiet them briefly if he was hired, but how long would that last while his suggestions were being ignored and Crane was trotting him out as a human shield to protect him from fan and media vitriol? Fans don’t go to the park to see the team president do his presidenting. Most probably didn’t know who Postolos was and while they’d know Ryan, that wouldn’t perfume the stink that these Astros are generating.

The key for Crane is twofold: 1) can he stand the constant attacks he’ll be under as the team gets worse before it gets better? And 2) Can Luhnow find the talent to make the club viable again?

On the first front, Crane is probably not accustomed to people talking to or about him the way they currently are. Rich, successful businessmen aren’t pleased about criticism and when it’s an alpha-male Texan where any small concession is seen as a sign of weakness and can cost money and clients, it’s magnified.

Regarding Luhnow, because the Astros are going to have so many high draft picks and are pouring most of their resources into development, it will be hard not to get better and show signs of significant improvement eventually. Whether that will yield the results that are expected in a replication of the Rays or the new “genius” in the Moneyball sense remains to be seen and it’s not guaranteed to happen. Already there should be concerns that their hand-picked manager Bo Porter is starting to look overmatched and was rightfully mocked because he didn’t know a fundamental rule of the game last week against the Angels. To make matters worse, his coaches didn’t point out to him that what he was doing was illegal either. That he got away with it only made it look worse.

There are similarities between another Texas team that was purchased by a brash rich man who didn’t want to hear what didn’t work in the past as Jerry Jones bought the floundering Cowboys from Bum Bright in 1989. Jones said some stupid things as Crane has, but he also had the foresight and guts to fire Tom Landry and hire Jimmy Johnson to put him in charge of the entire on-field operation. Of course it helped that Troy Aikman was sitting there as the first pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and that Johnson was a ruthless wizard with moving up and down the NFL draftboard and dispatching those who couldn’t or wouldn’t help him achieve his goals as rapidly as possible. But the key for those Cowboys was the Herschel Walker trade in which Johnson fleeced the Vikings for a bounty of draft picks that he used to put a Super Bowl team together in four years.

Jeff Luhnow is not Jimmy Johnson in terms of personality nor intensity, can’t trade up and down the MLB draftboard, and he doesn’t have a Herschel Walker equivalent on his roster to trade. Porter is not Johnson in terms of on-field strategic skill and in threatening and pushing his coaches and players to get it done or else.

Unless there’s some past business animosity between the two, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones has called Crane as Al Davis used to call Jones during the Cowboys’ 1-15 season in Jones/Johnson’s first season running the team and told him to keep his chin up. By “chin up” I don’t mean Jones is suggesting to Crane to have the ill-advised, multiple plastic surgeries Jones has had as he’s aged, but to keep his chin up in response to the raking he’s getting for the atrociousness of his team. Not only does Crane need to keep his chin up, but it had better be able to take a punch as well because they’re starting in earnest now and won’t stop until there’s a marked improvement in the on-field product. And that’s a long way away.

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Good News and Bad News: Halladay’s Not Hurt

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The Phillies would be better off if Roy Halladay was hurt. At least that would be a viable explanation for this sudden and cliff-diving decline from what he was to what he is. What makes the lost velocity and increased confidence of the hitters even more frightening is that there’s no physical malady or mechanical hiccup to fix and get the soon-to-be 36-year-old back to the greatness he’s exhibited for the past decade. His mechanics are fine and if he was ailing, the Phillies wouldn’t continue to put him on the mound. That was true in spring training as the “experts” speculated on what was wrong with Halladay and implied that there was an injury that the Phillies were hiding. What possible reason would they have to do that in spring training?

No. He’s not hurt. His arm slot is around where it was when he was at the top of his game with a slight deviation that has nothing to do with pain or compensation and isn’t going to revert him back to what he was if it’s “fixed.” He’s not finished and not in the last days of a great career. He can continue to pitch this way once he learns how to get hitters out more effectively with diminished stuff, but he’s not going to be the unstoppable, grinding, durable force he was. This is evidence of the ravages of time and work. In the past two decades, we’ve grown accustomed to pitchers continuing to perform in their 40s as they did in their 20s and for the most part in cases like Roger Clemens it was due to the evident use of PEDs, but with the new testing the one thing that can’t be quantified is when the body says enough’s enough. Halladay’s seems to be informing him that he has to figure something else out to be effective.

The sheer number of pitchers and players who weren’t simply maintaining their level of work in their supposed primes, but were surpassing it due to the use of certain substances made it seem normal when they should’ve been seen as a rarity. Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton were anomalies not just because they lasted into their 40s, but for the most part they maintained their effectiveness late into their careers pitching the same way they always did. There was no transition from what they were into something else.

Halladay’s velocity is down from a high of 96 and a consistent 94 at the tiptop of his game two years ago to barely hitting 90 last night. This has been a recurring issue all spring and spurred the worries that are rising with every subpar start. For the hitter, there’s a significant difference between preparing for 96, being used to 94 and seeing 89-90. That’s an eon of pitch recognition time. Add in that he doesn’t have the same pop you get the results Halladay’s produced in his first two starts.

Counting him out is silly. Pitchers like Carlton, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris have been labeled as “finished” and come back to be productive, even Cy Young Award contending arms at Halladay’s age and beyond. He still has his intelligence and his stuff is good enough to get hitters out, but he’s got to learn how to do it and it doesn’t happen overnight.

On another note with the Phillies, the Charlie Manuel contract situation is going to get messy. Were it not for a blown save by Greg Holland of the Royals in which he couldn’t find the strike zone, the Phillies would be sitting at 1-6 with a lame duck manager, an angry fanbase and ominous speculation concerning the age of their roster. Manuel has no intention of walking quietly into the night at the end of the season as the Phillies clearly want him to do and he’s working with his clear heir apparent, Ryne Sandberg, on the coaching staff.

This has happened with Manuel before. With the Indians in 2002, his contract was up at the end of the season, he wanted to know where he stood and basically told them to give him an answer or fire him. The Indians were in a similar position then as the Phillies are now with an aging core and an unavoidable rebuild beckoning, so with the club 39-47 and far from playoff position, they fired him. Manuel deserves better from the Phillies after all he’s accomplished—an extra year on his contract as severance even if they have no intention of him fulfilling it and not having to look at the guy who’s going to replace him every single day—but he’s not going to get it and if this thing spirals out of control, Sandberg will be managing the Phillies by June 1st.

Or sooner.

Extended discussions of this along with predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Keys to 2013: Texas Rangers

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Starting Pitching Key: Yu Darvish

The Rangers’ starting rotation isn’t as deep as it once was. They know what they can expect from Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. The back of the rotation is a giant question mark and they don’t even have Scott Feldman to step in as a swingman while they wait for Martin Perez and Colby Lewis to return from injury. Alexi Ogando has proven he can be effective as a starter, but the key for the Rangers rotation is Darvish.

Darvish was everything the Rangers could have wanted when they paid the big posting fee (almost $52 million) and signed him to a $50.5 million contract. If he evolves into a season-long Cy Young contender, the Rangers are a title contender. If he falters, their search for starting pitching will get serious.

Relief Pitching Key: Joakim Soria

Soria is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers have a hole in the eighth inning with the departure of Mike Adams and the shifting of Ogando to the rotation. They’re also waiting for the return (probably late in the season if they’re still contending) of Neftali Feliz.

A major question regarding the Rangers’ bullpen is whether the new delineation of duties with Nolan Ryan’s possible departure and GM Jon Daniels’s promotion leads to a more conventional pitch count/innings limit for the starters that was decidedly abandoned when Ryan was truly in charge. If the Rangers switch strategies, the bullpen will be pushed harder and be increasingly important.

Offensive Key: Lance Berkman

If Berkman is healthy, he’s going to hit. A knee injury limited him to 32 games for the Cardinals in 2012 and he considered retirement. Now, with the Rangers, he can be a designated hitter and not worry about playing the field. Less stress will be placed on his knees. He still hits and walks and with the Rangers friendly home ballpark, it’s reasonable to expect Berkman to hit 25+ homers and post a .380 OBP.

Defensive Key: Craig Gentry

The Rangers’ offense is not the machine it once was with Josh Hamilton gone. Gentry can run, but that’s secondary to catching the ball in center field. The Rangers are not as deep as they’ve been in the last several years and their margin for error is diminished. Fundamentals are imperative to overcoming these changes and not missing the offense from Hamilton too greatly.

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Aroldis Chapman—Starter or Closer?

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The Reds have experimented with Aroldis Chapman as a starter this spring after he spent the first three seasons in the majors as a reliever. He was their closer in 2012 and saved 38 games with dominant 122 strikeouts in 71.1 innings. Overall, in his three years, he’s thrown 135 innings and struck out 212. It’s obvious why the Reds would like to see how he’d do as a starter with those kinds of strikeout numbers and a Randy Johnson/Sandy Koufax potential for left-handed dominance if he has the durability to start.

Let’s look at the various factors in Chapman as a starter or reliever from the point of view of the participants.

Aroldis Chapman

He’s said he wants to go back to the bullpen. How much of an influence the player has on his role depends on the player, his contract, how much of a pest he can make of himself if he doesn’t get his way. Chapman’s statement that he wants to close was said in a sort of passive aggressive manner of, “I want to close, but it’s not my decision.”

Some players would exercise a self-fulfilling prophecy and say they won’t be able to start and stay healthy and effective over a full season if they want to be in the bullpen, and then come up with a malady that may or may not be psychosomatic. In the age of heavy stat use, the mental aspect is regularly ignored but no less important. Years ago, the Dodgers’ on-again/off-again third baseman Pedro Guerrero was so miserable at third base that it affected his hitting. When the Dodgers finally said enough and moved him back to the outfield, he went on a tear. It took Jonathan Papelbon to go to the Red Sox in 2007 and basically “save” their season by saying he wanted to close. It’s not to be ignored what the player wants.

What the Reds need

The 2007 Red Sox didn’t have a closer and were on the verge of making the same mistake they made in 2003 by going into the season without someone who could get the outs in the ninth inning and having it cost them games and teamwide confidence. The Reds are not in that position. They re-signed Jonathan Broxton to close if the Chapman-as-starter experiment worked. What they promised Broxton is unknown. Given the closer market and how it crashed, Broxton wasn’t in a position to be making demands that he be the closer or he wouldn’t re-sign. He’s making $21 million over three-years to soften his bruised feelings and gaudy save stats if he’s not closing.

The Reds don’t need Chapman as a starter. He’s competing with Mike Leake for the fifth spot and they’d be perfectly fine with the rotation they’d have with Chapman in the bullpen.

Management

GM Walt Jocketty is not an ideologue as Theo Epstein was when he continually insisted that he wanted Papelbon to start. Brian Cashman did the same thing with Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees succeeded in nothing more than destroying Chamberlain. Because of that, it’s clear that Jocketty believes that Chapman could be a very good starter and he’s not trying it based on theory or what’s popular.

With that 100+ mph fastball, a slider and a changeup that he rarely uses as a reliever, he certainly has the stuff to be as good as Johnson and Koufax were. At age 25, it’s a tough thing to relegate him to the bullpen for his whole career when there’s that chance that he could be a Hall of Fame, Cy Young Award winning starting pitcher if only given the opportunity. An old-school baseball man like Jocketty also doesn’t want to be seen as having his decisions dictated by the players or by new orthodoxy.

Manager Dusty Baker wants Chapman to close.

For all the outsider talk that closing will be “easier” on a pitcher’s arm, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, John Smoltz, did both and said that closing was tougher on him than starting was and he preferred being a starter. He was great at both. It depends on the pitcher.

If Johnson, Koufax or Nolan Ryan came on the scene today, it’s very possible that the powers-that-be would have said, “No way they can maintain this velocity over 220 innings. Make him a closer.” The White Sox made Rich Gossage a starter in 1976. His record was a dreadful 9-17, but the team was awful and he was mostly effective in the role. His strikeout numbers plummeted and he hated it. He was moved back to the bullpen and went to the Hall of Fame.

The best decision

Considering the Reds depth in the starting rotation, there’s no reason to move X here and Y there to accommodate the Z theory for the sake of it. They have five starters and their bullpen would be devastating with Sean Marshall, Broxton and Chapman in the late innings. If they weren’t legitimate World Series contenders, it would make sense to let Chapman start and see what happens. But they’re in it to win now and that’s not the time to experiment. For 2013, they should move Chapman back into the closer’s role and keep it in mind that he might be capable of starting at some other time in his career, just not now.

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Nolan Ryan’s Present And Future

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People are forgetting who Nolan Ryan is and why he has the reputation he does.

As a player, he was an ornery, competitive, strong and silent Texan who let his fastball and his performance do the talking. Now that he’s in the Rangers’ front office, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s staking out his territory and trying to control his own destiny by waiting to see exactly where he stands in the new hierarchy. It’s still unknown what his job description is and how far his power extends with former GM Jon Daniels now promoted to President of Baseball Operations; Rick George is running the business side; and Thad Levine—as soon as Ryan’s fate is determined—probably taking over a significant part of Daniels’s former duties in the day-to-day minutiae of running the club. Ryan has a right to stop and say, “Hold awn just a dern second here, pardner,” with his hand on his sidearm and an icy glare at the town politicians who are trying to take away his sheriff’s badge.

It seems that Ryan is being contrary because he’s not sure as to the delineation of the new parameters and wants to be certain he’s still wanted with the Rangers for his experience and advice. Daniels has said nothing will change, but that’s not worth much until there’s a disagreement between the two and Ryan knows that Daniels doesn’t have the power to shrug off what Ryan wants and do as he prefers without approval from his “boss.” Ryan also has an ego as big as Texas and doesn’t want to be seen as a caddy for his 35-year-old underling.

The Rangers baseball people are, by and large, highly educated and stat-centric. That’s not Ryan. While Ryan’s preferred method of developing pitchers deviated from the stat guy template, were Daniels and Levine onboard with what he was doing? Or were they cringing at the medieval methods and went along to get along because Ryan had the owner’s ear and they quietly hoped that no one got hurt or too much damage wasn’t done to the young arms Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and others as they were pushed harder than the numbers dictate is optimal? If Ryan’s tactics are shunted to the side and more “science” is injected into the equation, it will be clear what was going on with the Rangers. This is independent of whether Ryan’s there or not.

I believe it’s a mistake to let Ryan leave. While he prefers layman terminology and old-school sensibilities, he’s also able to adapt. When he hooked up with Tom House as his pitching coach and advisor in the 1980s-90s, he took House’s penchant for long-winded technical terms and innovations such as throwing a football and made them accessible for everyone. With his resume, if Ryan was doing it it had to be okay. It’s the same dynamic with the stat guys in the organization. He’s not a grumpy old man with no interest nor capability to understand the new metrics. He plays the opposite side from a position of having the experience to know what works and what doesn’t and he won’t be intimidated by condescension and high-end vocabularies. On the other side of the coin, with people who have their own theories and beliefs on building a club, they don’t want to hear the growling, memory-lane laced, “In my day, grumble, grumble…” from someone who doesn’t have the faintest interest nor comprehension of what the stat people are trying to do.

Ryan will not accept being a figurehead and those who are suggesting the Astros hire him away from the Rangers (Johnette Howard and Richard Justice) mention that Ryan couldn’t be a figurehead if the Astros did hire him. But what would he do there? The Astros have taken dramatic steps and made pointed hirings of pure stat people who never picked up a baseball. GM Jeff Luhnow has made no secret as to his intentions with the team and he’s implementing his beliefs as to how to rebuild a dead and dilapidated franchise. Whether it works remains to be seen, but he’s plotted his course and is sticking to it. That blueprint doesn’t include an old-schooler who wants substantial say-so and is used to getting his way in the male-dominated world of baseball in which might makes right.

Teams have plenty of former stars on their payrolls. Willie Mays is listed as a member of the Giants’ front office as a special assistant. Soon to be age 82, how much special assistance do you think Mays is providing? How much interest do you think he has in doing it? Mays is there to hobnob with the people who were kids when he was in his say heyday, want to say, “Wow!! I met Willie Mays!!” and have the money to purchase season tickets, luxury suites and hold corporate events at AT&T Park.  The Yankees bring in their former stars to stand around in spring training, mingle with the fans and help them sell stuff with nostalgia and stories. Sometimes, as was the case with Andy Pettitte, they even come back to play and contribute. But they’re not there with legitimate power, if any at all.

For the Astros, hiring Ryan would be diametrically opposed to what they’ve done since Luhnow took command. While it may make some fans happy for a moment, if they’re inserting Ryan’s methods into their rebuilding process, the inevitable question as to why they were they so hell-bent on tearing the thing down to its brass fittings and putting together a team that will compete for the title of worst in history if they were going to bring in Ryan and his opposite viewpoint as a decision maker?

Ryan could have been governor of Texas if he’d chosen to. He has neither the time nor the desire to stand around talking to people he doesn’t know and being the former hero who’s there to make everyone smile at the memories he created with his power fastball, longevity, and intensity. He wants to work. That may be possible with the Rangers, but it’s completely off the table for the Astros. The Rangers should make sure Ryan feels wanted because they need him to stay with the organization for his presence and his knowledge.

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Marvin Miller—A Man Of Vision And Guts

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Marvin Miller’s death at 95 has spurred public expressions of appreciation and recognition of all he did for baseball, baseball players, and sports in general. But it’s also highlighting the remaining misplaced animosity towards him from the owners because he’s still not in baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’m reminded of the scene in Godfather 2 where, during his rant about Moe Greene, Hyman Roth tells Michael Corleone that in spite of everything Greene did and created with his idea for Las Vegas, there’s “isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost, or a statue of him,” to commemorate what he accomplished.

The scene is below.

You can say the same things about Miller. His obituary in the NY Times explains who he was and goes into detail of his rise to prominence, status as a hero to the players, and the vindictive loathing he still endures from the owners, but there was something more. Miller took over as the executive director of the MLB Players Association in 1966 during a time when the owners’ collective self-importance and belief that their political connections would supersede any true attempt by the players to effectively unionize and garner greater compensation for themselves.

Miller used that arrogance and greed against them and impressed upon the players what was possible if they stuck together and were willing to take the necessary steps to strike in the face of public scorn and threat to their livelihoods. Back then, but for a select few stars, baseball couldn’t justifiably be considered a “livelihood” since most players had off-season jobs to make ends meet and their baseball careers could end on a whim from the front office. The reserve clause had tethered players to their teams for the duration of their careers and the anti-trust exemption was brandished as a weapon to flog their indentured servants and hold them in check.

Miller wasn’t what the owners portrayed him as: a rabble-rouser who put it in the players’ heads that they deserved more of the financial pie and ruined their monopoly, thereby destroying the game. What he did benefited everyone. In fact, without Miller the owners who bought or owned clubs as a family hand-me-down would not be part of the still-established monopoly known as Major League Baseball with a built-in fanbase, guaranteed appreciation on their investment, massive television and advertising deals, as well as the clout from being an MLB owner. The most financially hindered franchises such as the Tampa Bay Rays have doubled in value over the past five years. Would that have been possible for the lower echelon teams of the 1960s before Miller came to prominence?

Miller took a chunk of the power from the owners and placed it in the hands of the players. No longer was the rich guy in the suit able to hammer the desperate worker with the lingering prospect of unemployment and no recourse; with the warning that not only would they be out of a job as a player, but they wouldn’t be able to get another job as a player for another team and definitely wouldn’t find work as a coach, scout, manager, ticket-taker or beer vendor. The idea of the “real world” was so horrifying that players wound up signing the contracts, enjoying the ride, cursing the situation, and hoping it wouldn’t end prematurely due to injury or by angering the wrong person.

The mindset of the player had to be altered to enlighten them that the owners weren’t doing them any favors; they weren’t friends; and if the players joined together en masse and demanded that they be treated more fairly, they would achieve concessions they never thought possible. When engaging in a negotiation, each side must have a stake in the outcome. There’s no need for animosity nor a suspicion of the other’s motives provided each side understands how the failure to reach an agreement will negatively affect both sides. The players and owners have made one another a lot of money because of Miller.

But former commissioner Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame and Miller isn’t.

Many players today wouldn’t know who Miller is or what he did for them. They would have no clue and presumably little interest that pre-Miller, the money wasn’t always what it is now; the players didn’t have the right to sell their unique set of skills to the highest bidder; and the generous perks including medical care and pensions would not be available had it not been for him.

But he’s still not in the Hall of Fame.

Had the players taken a stand demanding that Miller be inducted, there wouldn’t be this debate. Because they had an investment in their own futures, they stood with Miller when the owners held the players in their fists and utilized any and all tactics to keep them in line. Why haven’t they stood up for him and his Hall of Fame candidacy not with a sense of urgency, but a sense of justice?

The more eloquent and influential players like Tom Seaver can make a case; the Nolan Ryan and Frank Robinson type can intimidate and use their status as front office insiders to make something happen; Joe Torre can make voters offers they can’t refuse. Have they done everything they can? Since Miller is still on the outside looking in, the answer is clearly no.

He deserves that plaque; that signpost; that statue. In fact, he deserved it while he was alive to enjoy the moment. Hopefully, though, it will be realized—by the owners too—that Miller has earned his place in baseball history and they’ll give it to him even if it’s far too late.

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Managers Traded For Players

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To the best of my research, managers have been traded six times in baseball history. It wasn’t always player for manager and the criticism the Red Sox are receiving for trading infielder Mike Aviles for righty pitcher David Carpenter and the rights to speak to John Farrell is stereotypical and silly. With it only having happened six times, it’s not a large enough sample size to say it’s not going to work. Also, history has proven that if a manager doesn’t work out in other spots, he might in another. Casey Stengel had one winning season (and that was only 2 games over .500) in nine years as a manager with the Braves and Dodgers before going down to the minor leagues between 1944 and 1948 where he had success he’d never had in the big leagues. The Yankees hired him in 1949 and he won 7 championships and 10 pennants in 12 years.

Here are the manager trades.

Jimmy Dykes for Joe Gordon—August 3, 1960

The genesis of this trade was originally a joke between Tigers’ GM Bill DeWitt and Indians’ GM Frank Lane, but as their teams faded they basically said, “Why not?”

Gordon was managing the Indians and Dykes the Tigers when they were traded for one another. Dykes was 63 when the trade was made and had never finished higher than third place while managing the White Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Reds, and Tigers. At the time of the trade, the Tigers record was 44-52 and they were in sixth place in the American League. Gordon’s Indians were 49-46 and in fourth place.

Interestingly, Dykes was the second Philadelphia Athletics manager in their history after Connie Mack was running things from 1901-1950.

Gordon has been popping up as a background performer in other dramas recently. As the debate regarding the American League MVP between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout reached a critical mass in the waning days of the regular season, Cabrera’s Triple Crown was a point of contention as it was stacked up against Trout’s higher WAR, superior defense, and perceived overall larger contribution. The Hall of Famer Gordon won the MVP in 1942 while playing for the Yankees over Ted Williams even though Williams won the Triple Crown. You can read about that and other MVP/Triple Crown controversies here.

Gordon had a contract to manage the Tigers for 1961, but asked for his release and it was granted so he could take over the Kansas City A’s where his former GM with the Indians, Lane, was the new GM under the A’s new owner Charlie Finley.

Do you need a family tree yet?

Gordon had a contract with the A’s through 1962, but was fired with the team at 26-33. He was replaced by Hank Bauer. This was long before anyone knew who or what Finley was. Gordon was only 46 at the time of his firing by the A’s, but only managed again in 1969 with the expansion Kansas City Royals. (Finley had moved the A’s to Oakland in 1968.) Gordon’s 1969 Royals went 69-93 and he stepped down after the season. On that 1969 Royals team was a hotheaded 25-year-old who won Rookie of the Year and was, as a manager, traded for a player—Lou Piniella.

Now you do need a family tree.

Dykes managed the Indians in 1961. They finished in fifth place with a 78-83 record and that was his last season, at age 64, as a big league manager.

Gil Hodges for Bill Denehy and $100,000

The Mets traded the right handed pitcher Denehy to the Senators for the rights to their manager Hodges. Hodges was a New York legend from his days with the Dodgers and, despite his poor record with the Senators (321-444), they had improved incrementally under his watch. The most important quality Hodges had was that the players were afraid of him and he didn’t take a load of crap. That they had a bushel of young pitching including Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan helped as well. That not taking crap facet might help Farrell with the Red Sox if they have the talent to contend—and right now, they don’t.

Chuck Tanner for Manny Sanguillen, November 5, 1976

Here was Charlie Finley again, still owner of the A’s, but with three World Series wins in his pocket and free agency and housecleaning trades decimating his team of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and in the future Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, and others. Finley wasn’t kind to his managers, but he won anyway. When the Yankees tried to hire Dick Williams while Williams was under contract after having resigned from the A’s after the 1973 World Series win, Finley demanded the Yankees top prospects Otto Velez and Scott McGregor. The Yankees hired Bill Virdon instead and then Billy Martin. George Steinbrenner always used his friendly relationship with Williams as a weapon to torment Martin.

I find fascinating the way perceptions cloud reality. Finley was thought to be ruthless and borderline cruel with the way he treated his managers, but he was also a brilliant and innovative marketer who’s rarely gotten the credit for being the shrewd judge of baseball talent he was. On the other hand, an executive like Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils hockey club has made (by my count) 19 coaching changes in his 25 years with the team. Several of the changes have been recycle jobs of bringing back men he’d fired or who’d stepped down; twice he changed coaches right before the playoffs started and replaced them with…Lou Lamoriello. Because he’s won three Stanley Cups and lost in the Finals two other times, he’s gotten away with it.

The Tanner trade came about because the Pirates needed someone to take over for longtime Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh and Tanner had a reputation for being relentlessly positive, well-liked, and solid strategically. He was also said to be strong as an ox so if a player did mess with him, it was a mistake.

Tanner was an inspired hire because that Pirates’ team had strong clubhouse personalities Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and the last thing they needed was for a new manager to come storming in and throwing things. Tanner and the Pirates won the World Series in 1979. The team came apart under Tanner’s watch, but they got old and had little talent to speak of until the end of his tenure in 1985. He was replaced by Jim Leyland.

Sanguillen still threw well from behind the plate at age 33 and spent one season with the A’s, playing serviceably, before being dealt back to the Pirates prior to the 1978 season.

Lou Piniella and Antonio Perez for Randy Winn—October 28, 2002

Like the David Carpenter for Aviles trade by the Red Sox (or the Chris Carpenter for the rights for Theo Epstein—what is it with players named Carpenter and the Red Sox?), the players were secondary to the rights to speak to and hire the still-under-contract managers. Piniella had resigned as the Mariners’ manager after ten successful years and want to go to the Mets who had just fired Bobby Valentine. This is more family tree fodder since Valentine was the consolation hire the Red Sox made a year ago after failing to acquiesce to the Blue Jays’ demands to speak to Farrell. It didn’t work out.

The Mets were in disarray, GM Steve Phillips absolutely did not want Piniella for the same reasons Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman didn’t want Piniella when it was rumored he was going to replace Joe Torre after 2006—he would be uncontrollable.

It was said by the likes of Peter Gammons that the Piniella to the Mets deal would eventually get done. Of course it was nonsense. The Mariners were annoyed at Piniella and weren’t going to reward him with going to his location of choice unless they were heavily compensated. They asked the Mets for Jose Reyes knowing the Mets would say no. The Mets hired Art Howe instead.

Piniella had nowhere to go aside from the Devil Rays and, while in retrospect, he should’ve sat out a year and waited for his contract to expire, he wanted to manage and the opportunity to be close to his home appealed to him regardless of the state of the Devil Rays. Promises were made that the team would spend money and Piniella—unlike Farrell—had the cachet to squawk publicly about it when the promise was reneged upon. Owner Vince Naimoli hoped the fans would come out to see a manager manage in spite of the players and, of course, they didn’t. For Piniella’s rights and journeyman infielder Antonio Perez, they traded their best player at the time, Winn. Winn had a solid big league career and the Devil Rays would’ve been better off trading him for players rather than a manager, but judging by how the team was run at the time, they wouldn’t have accrued much more value from the players they would’ve gotten than they did from Piniella. Maybe they sold a few extra seats because Piniella was there, so what’s the difference?

Piniella spent three years there losing over 90 games in each before leaving. He took over the Cubs in 2007.

Ozzie Guillen and Ricardo Andres for Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez

The Marlins had their eye on Guillen going back years. He was a coach on their 2003 World Series winning team and had won a title of his own with the White Sox in 2005. Looking to bring a Spanish-speaking, “name” manager to buttress their winter 2011-2012 spending spree and fill their beautiful new ballpark, Guillen was still under contract with the White Sox. But the White Sox had had enough of Guillen’s antics and wanted him gone. The Marlins traded Martinez and Marinez to the White Sox to get Guillen and signed him to a 4-year contract.

The Marlins were a top-to-bottom disaster due in no small part to Guillen immediately drawing the ire of a large portion of the Marlins’ hoped-for fanbase by proclaiming his love for Fidel Castro. Guillen was suspended as manager by the club. That can’t be blamed for the Marlins’ atrocious season. They played brilliantly in May after the incident, but incrementally came apart amid infighting and poor performance.

It’s been rumored that Guillen might be fired, but if the Marlins were going to do it, they would’ve done it already. Trading Heath Bell—one of Guillen’s main agitators in the clubhouse—is a signal that Guillen will at least get a chance to start the 2013 season with a different cast of players. Since it’s Guillen, he’s absolutely going to say something stupid sooner rather than later and force owner Jeffrey Loria to fire him.

Free from Guillen’s lunacy and with a new, laid-back manager Robin Ventura, the White Sox overachieved and were in contention for the AL Central title before a late-season swoon did them in.

I discussed the Farrell deal yesterday here. He’s who the Red Sox wanted, he’s who the Red Sox got. Surrendering Aviles isn’t insignificant, but everyone in Boston appears to be on the same page when it comes to the manager.

Whether it works or not will have no connection to the past deals of this kind and if a team wants a particular person to manage their team, it’s their right to make a trade to get it done. Criticizing the Red Sox on anyone else for the hire itself is fine, but for the steps they took to do it? No. Because Farrell is the man they wanted and now he’s the man they got. For better or worse.

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The Roger Clemens Comeback Attempt

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Whatever Roger Clemens’s agenda is, he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone as to why he wants to pitch again. It could be boredom; it could be a conscious decision to return to the big leagues to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility (and delay the embarrassment of not getting elected); it could be to prove that he can pitch cleanly at age 50; or it could be for no reason whatsoever.

Does he deserve the ridicule he’s receiving? I don’t see why he does. If Jamie Moyer was able to come back (and back, and back, and back) and teams signed him, then why can’t Clemens pitch for the independent team in Texas, the Sugar Land Skeeters, and see if he still has any juice (pardon the double entendre) left in the tank?

Athletes have retired or taken time off and tried comebacks before. There were the ludicrous (Pedro Borbon); the shocking and ill-fated (Jim Palmer); the otherworldly (George Foreman); and successful (Michael Jordan). It’s not impossible.

There’s every possibility that Clemens would pitch in the majors and embarrass himself as Orel Hershiser did when he hung on one year too long with the Dodgers in 2000 and his body wouldn’t cooperate with his still-fertile baseball mind. Moyer adjusted to his declining fastball with savvy and control. Clemens’s biggest downfall was when then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette uttered his famous, retrospectively accurate, and cold-blooded assessment of Clemens when he chose to let him leave the Red Sox by saying the pitcher was in the twilight of his career at age 33. Any pitcher at age 33, without the use of drugs or a superhuman will to stay in shape and Nolan Ryan-like longevity, would be in the twilight of his career. But it’s easily forgotten when assessing Clemens’s last year with the Red Sox and focusing on his 10-13 record for an 85-77 also-ran that Clemens had terrific secondary numbers that season including 242 innings pitched and an American League leading 257 strikeouts. Duquette might not have wanted to pay Clemens for 4-5 years when he probably would’ve gotten production for 2-3, but Clemens could still pitch.

We’ll never know what he would’ve accomplished for the Blue Jays had he not allegedly done what it’s been pretty well documented that he did to enjoy the renaissance from 1996 veteran who could still recapture his greatness in spurts to the consistent dominance he exhibited in the 1980s, but there was something left.

Could Clemens return to the big leagues at age 50 and get hitters out if he adapts to what he is now and doesn’t try to recapture what he was then? If he uses his brain and doesn’t try to bully the hitters with a fastball to the head, then he can. Does he want to do that? I don’t know. He wasn’t prepared to do it in the late-1990s and that’s what got him in this position of being persona non grata to begin with and almost got him tossed in jail. It also made him a lot more money than he would’ve made otherwise.

He might need the money now given how his fortune was likely decimated by ongoing legal battles.

Major League Baseball would exert not-so-subtle pressure on any team that entertained the notion to sign Clemens not to do it. They don’t want to see him or hear from him again. But there’s nothing to stop a club if they truly decide to sign him and nothing MLB can do about it.

Scott Kazmir is also pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, but no one thinks it’s a joke because Kazmir is trying to resurrect his career and is only 28-years-old. If nothing else, he can transform himself into a lefty specialist and will be back in the big leagues once he acknowledges that the strikeout machine he once was is gone.

Clemens was once faced with the same quandary and chose to bring back the strikeout king through illicit means that have yanked the Hall of Fame and historic greatness away from him. Had he stayed clean and just accepted the ravages of time both he and Barry Bonds—not exactly well-liked during their careers—would be viewed with a post-career respect as having done it clean in what’s known as a fake and dirty era of steroids. Instead, they understandably joined in to again prove that they were better on what was a level playing field of most everyone using PEDs.

Would Clemens have the clarity to accept what he is now and put his ego aside to get batters out? Or would he revert to exerting his will on the hitters when he doesn’t have the weapons to do it and be humiliated back into retirement?

He has the capability to get hitters out if he takes the Moyer-route, but it’s doubtful that he has the willingness to endure the abuse he’d receive if he tried, so I wouldn’t expect this “comeback” to go much further than with the Skeeters.

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