The Diamondbacks Grind Justin Upton Out Of Arizona

All Star Game, Award Winners, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The Diamondbacks sought offers from Justin Upton almost immediately upon Kevin Towers taking over as GM and in all that time—two-and-a-half years—they never gave a legitimate reason as to why. Few could formulate an obvious justification to place a 25-year-old outfielder with speed, solid defensive skills and power on the trade block so publicly.

Now that Upton has been traded to the Braves, it’s being said that the Diamondbacks wanted more “grinders,” and that Upton wasn’t that type of player. This would be fine if they were exchanging an easily replaceable player who didn’t fit into the clubhouse dynamic they were trying to create, but Upton isn’t a journeyman player. He’s not even a potential All-Star if all breaks right. He’s an MVP candidate in his mid-20s, signed to a reasonable long-term contract worth $38.5 million through 2015.

The pat excuses—lack of money; clubhouse malcontent; rebuilding—didn’t fit with the desperation to trade Upton, so it appeared as if they were trading him just for the sake of it. This all goes back to the hiring of Towers and the 2011 division title. I doubt that when Towers was hired he expected a few bullpen moves and the pieces that were already in place would result in a stunning NL West title. There was no rebuilding project to undertake because they won immediately with the remnants of what former GMs Josh Byrnes and his interim replacement Jerry Dipoto had left for Towers and manager Kirk Gibson to work with.

That division title might have hypnotized the Diamondbacks into thinking they were better than they actually were; into believing that the edited, simplistic version of Towers’s resume and the four playoff appearances and one pennant he won as GM of the Padres were accurate as a final determinative factor of his quality of work. In reality, the NL West was a weak division that the Padres won in back to back seasons in 2005 and 2006 because they were the best of a rotten bunch. Somehow, Towers garnered a reputation that he never truly earned. He’s a competent executive to be sure, but as for someone whose every word should be adhered to because he has a “track record of success,” it’s highly presumptuous. Towers’s executive accomplishments may be true, but they’re not 100% accurate.

All the speculation that there might have been off-field issues with Upton (because there was no other possible explanation for this obsession to trade him) were rendered moot when it was strategically leaked that he wasn’t intense enough to suit Towers and Gibson. As a response to search for reasons to the publicly inexplicable solicitation of offers for Upton, the Diamondbacks found one that can’t be quantified, therefore not disputed as anything other than an opinion.

Because Gibson was a run through the wall, football-mentality type doesn’t mean that’s what every player has to be in order to be successful. I’m not of the mind that the manager is a faceless, nameless functionary installed to implement front office edicts, but I’m also not of the mind to bend over backwards to adjust the roster to fit what the manager wants to do, especially when it involves trading a player who has the ability to win the MVP. The recent death of Earl Weaver and the accompanying tributes and obituaries discussed his love for the 3-run homer, defense and pitching, but Weaver was also able to adapt when he didn’t have the personnel to play that way. Gibson is not Weaver and sounds as if he’s distancing himself from the implication that he wanted tougher players than Upton.

Here’s the impression I get from the way this entire mess played itself out: Towers arrived as Diamondbacks GM, looked at the prospective 2011 roster and felt there were too many holes to fill through making small trades and affordable free agent signings. He sent feelers out regarding Upton hoping for a massive haul to rebuild the team and contend in perhaps 2012-2013. No massive offer came and they held onto Upton. Things went perfectly in 2011, they won the division with Upton finishing fourth in the MVP voting and they were suddenly viable contenders for the immediate future. After trading for Trevor Cahill and making a bizarre signing in Jason Kubel, they were going for it all in 2012. But they didn’t win it all. The pitching had injuries and the rotation and bullpen weren’t as good in 2012 as they were in 2011. They wound up at .500.

Who was to blame? Judging by what they just did it was Upton and his lack of fire. 2012 and the ongoing saga notwithstanding, the damage was done in late 2010 when Towers tossed Upton out there as a negotiable entity. Upton seemed perplexed and hurt by the trade talk but was great in 2011. In 2012, he played through injuries and his numbers suffered. This didn’t stop Diamondbacks’ Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick from calling out Upton and Stephen Drew for substandard play. Never mind that it’s been revealed that Upton had an injured thumb or that Drew was returning from a ghastly ankle injury, they weren’t playing up to Kendrick’s standards and he tore into them.

The Diamondbacks still had Upton on the table at mid-season 2012 and made their intentions clear when they signed Cody Ross for three-years and a whopping $26 million. There was nowhere for Upton to play. Towers traded for Heath Bell, whose main skill at grinding is grinding on the nerves of teammates, coaches, managers and front office people.

Clamoring for a shortstop, Towers traded his own former top draft pick Trevor Bauer to the Indians in a three-team trade that brought them Didi Gregorius from the Reds. Towers immediately compared to Gregorius to Derek Jeter. Then he agreed upon a trade of Upton to the Mariners knowing that the Mariners were one of the teams on Upton’s no-trade list and having been told beforehand that Upton was not going to okay the move under any circumstances. Like an undaunted explorer, Towers was formulating new ways to venture to the point of no return.

In the trade with the Braves, he sent Upton and Chris Johnson to Atlanta and acquired another shortstop Nick Ahmed along with Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill.

He’s got the young Jeter in Gregorius, I’m waiting for him to compare Ahmed to Nomar Garciaparra to have his very own late-1990s, inter-organizational war as to who’s better, Nomar or Derek.

The Diamondbacks finished off their Upton gaffe and obviously didn’t learn the error of their ways when, with Prado, they announced that they planned to sign him to a long-term contract to prevent his free agency after 2013. How about talking to his agent first and seeing what he wants before boxing oneself and making Prado’s contract extension a necessity rather than a desire?

Then it became public that they were going to try and trade for Rick Porcello of the Tigers. The Diamondbacks are a club that operates under the pretext of going beyond full disclosure to overexposure without understanding what kind of damage they’re doing to their plans (if they have any).

There’s been no acknowledgement of what got them in this situation in the first place: The Upton rumors that started when Towers first took the job. If there’s no accepting and admitting of the problem, then the problem can’t be solved. Towers wanted a shortstop in exchange for Upton and was trying to get Jurickson Profar from the Rangers. When the Rangers said no, he turned his attention to minor leaguers like the ones listed above. His current big league shortstops are Cliff Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald—none of whom are any good.

Are they rebuilding? Are they trying to win now? Is Towers undoing what was there when he arrived and trying to tailor a club to fit his manager even though the manager is the first one to go when things come undone?

The Diamondbacks put themselves in this position and rather than climb out of the hole they’ve dug, they’re continuing to dig hoping that digging deeper yields an escape route. Logic dictates that it won’t and they’ll keep making things worse until it won’t matter what kind of team they want because the players they have aren’t good enough.

Upton was good enough. He’ll be showing that with the Braves in 2013 and beyond as the Diamondbacks grind themselves into the ground.

//

Advertisements

Does Mike Napoli Miss Mike Scioscia Yet?

Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The notoriously contentious relationship between Mike Napoli and his former manager with the Angels Mike Scioscia was probably due to the manager expecting and demanding more from his catchers than Napoli understood. It wasn’t personal. With the deal between Napoli and the Red Sox in suspended animation and each side staking out their positions while showing no evidence of moving anytime soon, Napoli might be longing for those halcyon days when the main thing he had to worry about was whether Scioscia was going to yell at him for calling a curveball instead of a slider in the sixth inning of a July game against the Orioles.

Sciosica’s tough on his catchers. The Red Sox are tough on their prospective free agent signees.

This essence of the Red Sox-Napoli holding pattern stems from a problem the club saw with Napoli’s hip during his physical and it’s being reported that the club wants to shorten the 3-year, $39 million contract that was agreed to in early December to one year. It’s not a small thing and it presents more problems for Napoli than it does the Red Sox. At this late date, the Red Sox can still figure out another option for first base (Mike Morse, Justin Morneau or even taking a flier on Kyle Blanks) and already have three catchers with David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway able to provide defensive competence and pop. They don’t need Napoli as the final piece to a puzzle that’s already haphazardly constructed and not improved enough from the 69-93 monstrosity they were in 2012 to be considered viable contenders in 2013.

But Napoli needs the Red Sox.

Teams and player agents like to leak information prior to official, legally bound contracts so it’s harder to come undone. Once there’s an “agreement” there’s not an official agreement until the player has undergone his physical and both sides have signed the contract, but the deal is done…unless the club spots an issue and is prepared to use that issue to hold up or nix it. Generally it’s a formality, but with the Red Sox that’s not always the case.

The Red Sox deserve credit and blame for their behaviors in this vein. One one level, many clubs would blow off the concerns they may have found during the physical to spare themselves the embarrassment and aggravation of having to announce that the deal is off or trying to alter it and protect themselves. With Napoli, they’d move forward in spite of the hip problem and hope he stays healthy. On another level, that they’ve held up the finalization for over a month traps Napoli. When news of a signing leaks, both team and player, to an extent, are boxed in. Without the hip issue, the Red Sox would be beholden to signing Napoli regardless of possible second thoughts; Napoli wasn’t going to do better anywhere else.

Now Napoli’s in a cage and the Red Sox have the only key. With public knowledge of the hip problem, what team is going to give him more than the Red Sox newly rumored offer of one year? And forget the $39 million, which is probably more money that Napoli had realistically imagined he’d get in the first place. He’ll be lucky to get a guarantee of half that.

It’s late in the winter, pitchers and catchers report in a month and the hip problem is known leaving any executive vulnerable if Napoli is signed and gets hurt. I suppose a team hunting for offense and desperate to make a splash in an unusually tranquil winter (such as the Yankees) wouldn’t mind taking Napoli away from the Red Sox on a one-year contract. If the Red Sox are steadfast with their new offer and Napoli wants some vengeance on the Red Sox, that’s the way to do it and it would certainly enliven a Yankees fanbase that is growing angrier and angrier by the day. Aside from that, where can he go?

Teams like the Rangers that are looking at the situation objectively and might possibly have had interest in Napoli have filled his role cheaper with Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. Other clubs like the Mariners and Orioles are destinations, but they’re not going to surpass the Red Sox renewed offer and does Napoli really want to go to Seattle?

Napoli has two choices in the staredown with the Red Sox: sign the reduced deal or talk to the Yankees and secure an offer before telling the Red Sox to take a hike. The fact is that he’s at the mercy of the Red Sox who’ve altered their template from systematically ripping a player and leaking his medical records on the way out the door (Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Bay) to doing it before he walks in the door.

Napoli’s caught in the bear trap and it’s up to him whether he’s willing to gnaw off his limb to escape. A year of captivity and sustenance is better than nothing and that appears to be what the Red Sox are banking on in their hardline stance with a player to whom they offered too much money and too many years to begin with.

//

Your Alternate Red Sox Universe

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

You’ve all heard and read about the Red Sox players running to ownership to complain about Bobby Valentine. Analysis of this is rampant, but I’m going to do something different. Let’s say that Terry Francona wasn’t forced out and as a corollary to that decision, Theo Epstein stayed on as GM to fulfill the final year of his contract. What would the Red Sox look like right now without Valentine as manager; without Ben Cherington in this no-win situation and having his power usurped by Larry Lucchino; without the moves they made to patch over holes while keeping the foundation of the team intact?

Epstein said that his future with the Red Sox was tied to Francona. Epstein was entering the final year of his contract and, in a benevolently arrogant Theo way, would’ve done the Red Sox a favor and stayed under those terms contingent on Francona being retained as manager.

I think Francona wanted freedom from the out-of-control nuthouse and expectations the Red Sox had become. I think his desire to leave was due to his physical and mental health. What had once been appreciated was no longer so; in a state of World Series win or bust, there’s no enjoyment, only relief in winning or devastation in losing. Francona had had it.

I also think Epstein wanted out. Whether it was to escape the pressure of his hometown and the victories that had turned into a burden or that he wanted a new challenge, he needed to move on. Both achieved their ends. Francona is able to sit in an ESPN booth and luxuriate in the accolades of what he presided over and be absolved of the blame for the lack of discipline, overt disrespect, poor play, and questionable decisions that led to the 2011 collapse and set the stage for the exodus.

Is it something new for voices in the Red Sox organization to unload on employees who’ve departed by choice or by force? They did it with Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, and now Francona. This offended the players? It’s par for the course. They ripped David Ortiz and Jason Varitek before both decided to stay. In 2005 Epstein left in a power grabbing snit and came back. It’s the way things go in Boston. The “grand returns as beloved conquering heroes” for these star players as if there was no bad blood is inherent and hypocritical. It’s not going to change.

Would the 2012 team be different with Epstein and Francona? Would Josh Beckett be pitching better? Would Jon Lester? Would they have moved forward with Kevin Youkilis?

Considering how he views the closer role as easily replaceable, I can tell you now that Epstein would not have traded Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey. Epstein would also have blunted Lucchino’s incursion into the baseball operations. But it was Epstein who put together the 2011 team. It was Epstein who paid over $100 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka; signed Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks. Most of the roster and the players who are underperforming and throwing tantrums were brought in by Epstein. It was Francona who let the players run roughshod over all propriety and behave as if they were entitled to do whatever they wanted just because. To think that the club would be better now if Francona and Epstein had stayed is ignoring the fundamental issues that caused the 2011 collapse in the first place.

Both Epstein and Francona can feel badly for players they have affinity for and who played hard for them like Dustin Pedroia, but privately don’t you think they’re wallowing in what the Red Sox are going through now? Loving it? Sitting there with smug half-smiles as they’ve moved along and their former organization is teetering on the brink of revolution?

The Red Sox are 57-60 and are not making the playoffs. It would be the same circumstances with different actors in the drama if Epstein and Francona had stayed. If that had happened, Epstein’s expiring contract would be the hot topic of discussion and those who are looking back on Francona’s tenure with the remembrances of a long-lost love would’ve called for his head in May and the Red Sox would’ve had no choice but to fire him. Do you think the players would’ve defended him? Or, just as they leaked the meeting with ownership regarding Valentine, would they be privately saying that the clubhouse had tuned Francona out and a change needed to be made?

This is not a good team. Valentine has brought on many of the problems himself because of who and how he is, but the players were ready to mutiny the second he was hired before even talking to him and it was all based on reputation. He was a bad choice to patch over the holes that led to the massive changes, but it was either make structural changes to the personnel or put a Band-Aid on them and try to find someone who they felt would handle the stat-studded roster they were stuck with. It hasn’t worked, but they wouldn’t be in a better position with Francona; with Gene Lamont; with Dale Sveum; with John Farrell; with anyone.

The issue of the players failing to look in the mirror and accepting that they’re part of the problem still remains sans Francona and Epstein and with Valentine targeted for elimination. Beckett refused to take responsibility for being out of shape, arrogant and selfish last season and the same issues are in play now. Adrian Gonzalez’s looking toward the heavens and referencing God’s plan at the conclusion of 2011 along with him having been the star player for three teams that have collapsed and his whining about Valentine are validating the perception that he’s not a leader and has a preference to being a background player rather than the out-front star.

Is Valentine to blame for Beckett? For Lester? For Daniel Bard? For Crawford?

No. But he’s the scapegoat.

Red Sox ownership is going to have to confront these hard truths. Yes, they can fire Valentine and install whomever as the new manager, but is that going to fix things? Will the players suddenly rediscover a work ethic that’s sorely lacking? And if Pedroia is so hell-bent on winning and doing things the “right” way, why didn’t he confront the players who were clearly acting in a manner that was diametrically opposed to winning and was affecting the team negatively last September?

The team doesn’t need a new manager. It needs a mirror. A big one.

//

The Youkilis Situation Could’ve Been Handled Better

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

The Red Sox are not known for their amicable partings of the ways with players, managers and executives.

Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein all left under acrimonious circumstances so it’s not surprising that Kevin Youkilis is on the trading block and has been treated as if he was a spare part rather than a key to their success over the past six years.

Youkilis isn’t innocent here. His intensity, hatred of losing and temper were once seen as attributes, but once he was injured and his production diminished, those personality traits were suddenly viewed as negative. The temper turned into whining; his hatred of losing became self-indulgent tantrums; the intensity deteriorated into clubhouse lawyering.

What was once galvanizing morphed into the subversive.

It doesn’t matter which is accurate. It’s all about perception. When the team was winning, Youkilis’s personality was part of the fabric that made the club successful; when they began losing, it was a problem that had to be excised.

Bobby Valentine didn’t do the Red Sox, himself or Youkilis any favors by calling the player out for his seeming lack of passion. Boston tends to magnify everything and a manager like Valentine—accustomed to New York and a press corps with a million other stories to cover—certainly didn’t expect what was an innocuous comment to explode the way it did. In New York it would’ve been a story for a day or two and then faded away. In Boston it was a topic of conversation for weeks and validated the players’ fears about Valentine.

The biggest factors for the Red Sox in this haven’t been Valentine, Youkilis, the emergence of Will Middlebrooks or the team’s struggles that have necessitated dramatic changes for the greater good. The upheaval from last fall and departures of Francona and Epstein got the ball rolling. Had Francona been brought back, Epstein would’ve stayed; had Epstein stayed, Larry Lucchino wouldn’t have asserted himself in the baseball operations department; there would be no Valentine. If Epstein had stayed, he likely would’ve insisted on making serious changes to the roster. That would’ve had Youkilis traded last winter rather than heading into the season with him already unhappy at being symbolized for the 2011 collapse.

Blaming Valentine or Youkilis is simplistic. The Red Sox disarray that precipitated the departures of Francona and Epstein set the foundation. They could’ve gotten something for Youkilis last winter. Now they’re probably going to get nothing apart from another name added to the list of players who gave their hearts and souls to the Red Sox and Boston and were unceremoniously—even cruelly—kicked out the door when they’d outlived their usefulness.

It didn’t have to be this way.

It shouldn’t have been this way.

But this is how it is.

//

Would Terry Francona Have Basis for a Lawsuit Against the Red Sox?

Ballparks, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

In an interview with WEEI radio, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona lashed out against the person or persons who leaked the story that painkillers were an issue for him this season—Boston.com story.

Given his anger at how the Red Sox slammed him on the way out the door and the anonymous sources that suggested Francona had a prescription drug problem, does the former manager have a case to sue the Red Sox and the Boston Globe for slander and libel respectively?

There were two openings that Francona was up for following his departure from the Red Sox. One was with the Cubs and the other the Cardinals.

The man who hired him in Boston, Theo Epstein, is now the team president of the Cubs; presumably Epstein knew the whole story with Francona’s pain medication and what really happened in Boston; but the Cubs chose Dale Sveum as their manager. That doesn’t say anything about Francona personally; Sveum is a good choice and probably a better fit for the Cubs in their current state.

Francona was asked about it in his interview to manage the Cardinals. The Cardinals were a solid landing spot for a proven manager. We’ll never know whether his failure to get that job had something to do with the allegations—the Cardinals wouldn’t admit it if it did—but the idea of it being a reason they didn’t select him can’t be dismissed out of hand as they chose the neophyte Mike Matheny over Francona.

Francona is now out of work. His contract with the Red Sox was technically not renewed so he wasn’t fired. Having acquitted himself well as a broadcaster during the ALCS filling in for Tim McCarver, he’ll be a broadcaster in 2012 and those jobs tend to pay well.

He’s very well-liked as a person as well and if he grew desperate, he could find employment without being the manager of a team; Francona worked in the Indians front office after he was fired as Phillies manager and was a bench coach for the Athletics. But it’s a major comedown financially and in stature for a manager with Francona’s pedigree of two World Series wins to have to grovel to sit next to a manager who is undoubtedly not going to have the resume that Francona does.

This is different than the Red Sox saying Nomar Garciaparra was being a petulant, self-indulgent baby when they traded him; somewhat different from saying Pedro Martinez‘s arm wasn’t going to hold up for the length of a 4-year contract and claiming the Jason Bay‘s knees and subpar defense made him a poor signing for the amount of money and years he wanted and wound up getting from the Mets.

This is what the Red Sox do; they continued the tradition by saying negative things about Francona to justify the parting of ways as a means of self-protection for the inevitable backlash for letting the popular manager go.

If Francona has a doctor to back up his version of events and he doesn’t get a managerial position when he chooses to truly pursue one, would he have legal recourse to say the Red Sox impugned his reputation and cost him other opportunities?

I said at the time that the Red Sox—with the amount of money they spent on the 2011 team and the horrific collapse stemming in large part from lax discipline on the part of Francona—had a right to make a change if they felt another manager would handle the club better on and off the field.

But they didn’t have to spread these stories.

Could Francona sue the Red Sox?

It would be a bad idea. This is baseball. A lawsuit might lead to him being blackballed to a greater degree than an addiction; but if he feels they’re doing this intentionally and whispering lies to hurt his career in an effort to look better themselves, he has a legal right to look into it seriously if he has to.

//

Showalter-Duquette Philosophies Mesh Neatly For The Orioles

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

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.

//

The Jose Reyes Free Agency Profile

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Name: Jose Reyes


Position: Shortstop.

Vital Statistics: Age-28; Height-6’1″; Weight-200; signed by the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1999.

Agent: Peter Greenberg.

Might he return to the Mets? Yes.

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Atlanta Braves; Florida Marlins; St. Louis Cardinals; Milwaukee Brewers; Cincinnati Reds; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers; Boston Red Sox; Detroit Tigers; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners.

Positives:

Reyes is unstoppable when he’s healthy. He can hit for average and some power; he provides extra base hits and loads of triples; he can steal 70-80 bases; is a superior defensive shortstop with a cannon for an arm; and he’s a switch-hitter.

His personality is infectious; he excites people by his mere presence; he’s intelligent, well-spoken and charming.

As he showed with his display during the first half of the season, when Reyes is sufficiently motivated, he’s one of the most dynamic players in baseball. Any club will be better with him at the top of their lineup and in the field. His pricetag won’t be as heavy now as it looked like it was going to be in July; while it sounds strange that a team could get an MVP candidate and Gold Glover at a discount even if they’re paying as much as $130 million, that will be the case if he’s physically sound.

Negatives:

His frequent hamstring injuries are a big concern. He doesn’t walk. And once his speed begins to decline, it’s reasonable to wonder whether a team will be paying $20 million annually for a singles and doubles hitter who’ll hit 10 homers a year and is losing several steps defensively.

It must be understood that there’s always the potential for a pulled or torn hamstring that will keep him out for months or possibly an entire season.

Reality:

Amid all the criticisms doled out to the Mets for failing to lock Reyes up before this; the rumors that they’re reluctant to keep him at whatever cost or are planning a face-saving offer without intending it to succeed; and the fear of the unknown without him, it’s selectively ignored that the Mets have made the mistake of overpaying to sign, trade for and/or keep players due to fan reaction and desperation.

Does it really matter why the Mets let him leave if they choose to do so?

If it’s financially-related or a cold-blooded analysis that he’s not worth it, isn’t that why they hired Sandy Alderson as GM in the first place—because they’re running the team like a business and not to cater to the fans desires if they’re going to hinder their rebuilding attempts?

References to the Red Sox and Yankees as teams who don’t make such calculations are ridiculous.

It was the Red Sox who traded Nomar Garciaparra and allowed Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay to leave as free agents because, in order, they didn’t like Nomar’s attitude and contractual demands; Pedro’s arm had been judged to have only a year or two left before a full breakdown; and they didn’t want to pay Bay for the full 4-5 years it would’ve taken to keep him.

They were right about the first two; Bay would’ve been fine had he stayed in Boston.

The Yankees let both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui walk after winning a World Series they wouldn’t have won without them; GM Brian Cashman didn’t want to re-sign Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and he was right in both cases.

This concept that the Mets are at fault for Reyes’s hamstring problems is as stupid as the Cashman suggestion that the Mets were at fault for his decision to give Pedro Feliciano an $8 million package for what looks like will be nothing. The Yankees “superior” medical staff okayed the deal for Feliciano; the Red Sox misdiagnosed Clay Buchholz‘s back injury this season and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s broken ribs last season.

Teams make medical mistakes—it’s not only the Mets.

You can’t build a team similar to the Red Sox from 2003-2008 without enduring some pain of these brutal, unpopular choices that need to be made. To think that a front office as smart as the one led by Alderson doesn’t have a contingency plan in place to replace Reyes with several lower cost acquisitions or via trade is foolish.

Prior Mets regimes were reactionary and thin-skinned; they allowed the fans and agenda-driven media people (or fans who think they’re the media) to interfere and affect what would’ve been better for the club in the long term. They doled generous severance packages to declining and borderline useless veterans Al Leiter and John Franco and essentially let those two have a significant say in the construction of the club—it was known as the Art Howe era.

That’s also how they wound up with Martinez; Mo Vaughn; Jeromy Burnitz; Johan Santana; Bay; Francisco Rodriguez; J.J. Putz and numerous others.

Do they want to repeat the past mistakes and spend capriciously to keep critics quiet? Or do they want to have a plan, work within a budget and build a sustainable foundation?

Whether the budget is based on lawsuits, financial collapses or creating a streamlined, profitable club is irrelevant—this is where they are and they have to react accordingly.

Say what you want about Alderson—that he’s desperate for credit; that he’s got a massive ego; that he intentionally creates factions in his front office to maintain a power base loyal to him—he’s not concerned about what people say when he makes a decision; it will be rational one way or the other.

If Reyes leaves, so be it.

What he’ll want: 7-years, $150 million.

What he’ll get: From a club other than the Mets, 6-years guaranteed with a mutual option based on games played and health for a 7th year at a total of $140 million if he reaches all incentives.

From the Mets, 5-years guaranteed at $105 million with easily reachable options for two more years based on games played and health to push it to $140 million.

It’s up to him whether money and guaranteed dollars are more important than his supposed desire to stay with the Mets. Players have shunned the chance at extra money in recent years to go to a preferred locale, so it’s not assured that he’s following every penny elsewhere.

Teams that might give it to him: Tigers, Phillies, Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Brewers, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Giants, Mets.

Would I sign Reyes if I were a GM: Yes.

Will it be a “bad” signing for the club that does pay him? It might be, but his upside and that he’s a shortstop makes him worthwhile—within reason.

//

This Is Not About Theo Epstein (That Comes Later)

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Panic abounds in Boston as the prospect of a trifecta of organizational dysfunction beckons. Following the humiliating collapse and requisite sniping, backbiting and blaming one another has come the departures of the two men who were out front of the Red Sox revival, manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein.

Never mind the fact that many managers could have and would have won with that roster full of talent; ignore that there are GM candidates everywhere and no one is irreplaceable, it’s a triple shot of torment to an organization that had grown so used to success that they’ve forgotten how expectantly painful it was to be a Red Sox fan.

Here are the facts with Epstein and the Red Sox: they were gutsy; they were lucky; they filled the front office with smart people; and they won.

Will Epstein have the same success with the Cubs?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Do you know how the Red Sox managed to draft Clay Buchholz? Dodgers scouting guru Logan White wanted to draft Buchholz, but was overruled by Paul DePodesta who wanted Luke Hochevar.

The Dodgers drafted Hochevar…and failed to sign him.

So the Red Sox got Buchholz.

They were lucky with David Ortiz, whom they signed as an “oh him” guy.

They were lucky that no one ever took them up on the multiple times they tried to dump Manny Ramirez.

They were lucky that the exalted genius Billy Beane turned down the offer to be GM after initially accepting. (Be funny if they hired him now!)

They were smart in ignoring conventional wisdom—Moneyball and otherwise—and wound up with the likes of Dustin Pedroia.

The key for the Red Sox was the utter ruthlessness with which they dispatched players who either wanted too much money or too many years as free agents or were no longer performing and were traded.

The dealing of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 was an act of heresy; without it, they likely would not have won the World Series that year.

There never would have been a trade for Josh Beckett had Epstein not resigned in a power-grabbing snit after 2005; and with that trade came the MVP of the 2007 World Series, Mike Lowell—whom they were forced to take!

Letting Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay leave turned out to be prescient decisions that didn’t work out well for the players in any aspect aside from their pockets and has ended positively for the Red Sox.

The era of the rock star GM has created this concept of the all-seeing, all-knowing expert at the top of the pyramid. It’s nice, neat, salable and a load of garbage.

People don’t want the truth that Epstein was hired as a face of the franchise in part because Larry Lucchino didn’t want to do the GM grunt work. But the puppet started tearing at his strings quickly as his reputation grew and the struggle became an uneasy truce.

The Red Sox will get someone else if Epstein leaves. Presumably it will be someone intelligent and willing to listen to others—something that perhaps Epstein no longer wants to do.

It could be an inspired maneuver like the Rays decision to hand control over to Andrew Friedman; or it might be as disastrous as the Jack (Amazin’ Exec) Zduriencik tenure as Mariners GM.

Who deserves the credit or blame? The person who wrote the song? The guy who sang it? The producer? The background musicians or the promoters? Is it a combination?

Without Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle, there’s no appellation of “old school baseball genius” for Pat Gillick with the Phillies.

Without Bobby Cox laying the foundation for the Braves of the 1990s, John Schuerholz is not heading for the Hall of Fame.

Without Gene Michael, there’s no Brian Cashman.

The line between genius and idiot is narrow and has little to do with the individual, but chance, circumstance, courage and support.

It could be terrible decision for Epstein to leave. Or it could be one for him to stay. But it can’t be judged now.

And life will go on.

//

Verlander’s MVP Chances, Hurricanes And Hackery

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Trade Rumors

A confluence of events are bringing back a controversy from 12 years ago as the borderline incoherent ramblings of a writer with a partisan agenda and flimsy excuses should again be brought to light.

Justin Verlander‘s candidacy for Most Valuable Player in the American League is discussed in today’s New York Times by Baseball-Reference‘s Neil Paine.

Naturally the arguments will pop up as to whether a pitcher should be considered for the MVP. This debate is generally based on them having their own award (the Cy Young Award); and that advanced metrics dictate that a pitcher’s contribution—no matter how good—doesn’t have the affect on team fortunes that an everyday player’s does. These awards are subjective and voted on by the baseball writers. There are some who know what they’re talking about; some who don’t; some shills for the home team; some simply looking for attention; and some who do what’s right rather than what would be palatable based on team and employer allegiances. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t imply guilt or innocence in a particular vote and there are no rules to dictate who should win various awards. It’s a judgment call.

I look at the MVP as a multiple-pronged decision.

Was the player (pitcher or not) the best in the league that particular year?

Would his club have been in their current position with or without him?

Who are his competitors?

Paine says that Verlander probably won’t win the award—and he’s right; one thing he fails to mention when talking about pitchers who’ve won and been snubbed is how one or two individuals can make a mockery of the process by injecting factional disputes or self-imposed “rules” into their thought process.

In 1999 George A. King III left Pedro Martinez off his ballot entirely.

Martinez’s numbers that season speak for themselves. Martinez went 23-4; struck out 313 in 213 innings; had a 2.07 ERA to go along with the advanced stats Paine mentions. He finished second in the voting to Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers and should’ve been the MVP in addition to his CYA; but that’s irrelevant compared to King’s response to the rightful criticisms levied upon him.

In this NY Post retort, King discusses a life and death experience surviving a hurricane while he was on vacation as the controversy was taking place. Whether this is a maudlin attempt at sympathy or to provide “perspective” for life out of baseball’s context is unknown. I have no patience for this in a baseball-related discussion because it’s generally disguised as social commentary and a learning tool when in reality it’s a clumsy and self-serving attempt to sound philosophical. Adding his pet and children into his tale of survival is all the more ridiculous.

The most glaring parts of King’s response—in a baseball sense—are also the most inexplicable and unbelievable.

King’s argument that Martinez’s exclusion from his ballot was that he was convinced—EUREKA!!!—the year before that pitchers should not win the MVP.

However, after listening to respected baseball people at last year’s Winter Meetings grouse about giving $105 million to a pitcher (Kevin Brown) who would work in about 25 percent of the Dodgers’ games, I adopted the philosophy that pitchers — especially starters — could never be included in the MVP race.

Furthermore, pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young, something position players aren’t eligible for. Martinez, the AL Cy Young winner, appeared in 29 games this year for the Red Sox. That’s 18 percent of Boston’s games. For all of Martinez’ brilliance, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was more valuable to the Red Sox. So, too, was manager Jimy Williams, the AL Manager of the Year.

Jimy Williams?

More important than Pedro Martinez?

Then King takes swipes at other writers who ripped him by calling them a “pathetic group of hacks”.

Presumably this group included Hall of Famer Bill Madden, who eloquently discussed the absurdity in this NY Daily News piece; and Buster Olney, then a writer for the NY Times, said it made all writers look dumb.

Leaving Martinez off the ballot is one thing—it was obviously done with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in mind and that Martinez was public enemy number 1, 2, and 3 for the Yankees in those days; but to compound it by insulting the intelligence of anyone who can see reality with this kind of whiny, “what does it all mean” junk while simultaneously ignoring the initial point by attacking “hacks” who disagreed with him and said so was, at best, contradictory; at worst, it was pathetic. If King came out and said, “you really think I was gonna vote for Pedro Martinez as MVP after all the stuff he’s pulled against the Yankees?”, it would’ve been unprofessional as well, but at least it would’ve been honest.

I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season; I might even agree if Verlander is bypassed for the award; Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, and Michael Young all have cases to win; but Verlander deserves to be in the conversation and everyone should adhere to the rule that there is no rule for MVP eligibility and be truthful without self-indulgent qualifiers.

One thing I was unaware of is that King works hard and plays harder. I suppose that’s important as well. But it might alter my decision to call him a Yankees apologist who had a vendetta against Pedro Martinez when he cast his 1999 MVP ballot and left him off intentionally. Was there a rule against voting for then-Red Sox manager Jimy Williams as MVP? I don’t know.

I haven’t decided where I’m going with this as of yet and my excuse could have something due to the rampaging Hurricane Irene heading for New York.

I’ll let you know.

//

Anonymous Sources And Jonathan Papelbon

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects

Anonymous sources are often used in opinion/news pieces online and in the newspapers. I’ve repeatedly said that these “sources” could just as easily be conjured out of thin air by an unscrupulous or lazy writer who wants to make a statement and bolster it with the “credibility” of a baseball employee.

In this piece by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Jonathan Papelbon‘s pending free agency is discussed. Both the pros-and-cons of letting Papelbon go or keeping him are discussed.

The Red Sox will do what they feel is right without sentiment. After the way they coldly dispatched Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon and ignored David Ortiz‘s empty threats that they’d better extend his contract—they’ll let him leave if that’s what they think is the right thing to do.

The Red Sox reaction to Ortiz appeared to be a version of, “Yeah? Or what?” which is exactly the way they should’ve responded.

Cafardo quotes an unnamed executive from a National League team wondering about the wisdom of breaking up the Daniel Bard/Papelbon late-inning combination.

Do you know who this executive is? I don’t know who this executive is.

It could be someone whose credibility is unquestioned; it could be someone who works for Nationals and suggested that it was a good idea for the club to trade for Jonny Gomes.

In other words, it could be anyone. That “anyone” makes it possible that it’s a person to whom Red Sox GM Theo Epstein could say—without bullying pomposity, just fact—“who the hell are you to be telling me how to run my team with 2 championships in the past 9 years and an annual playoff berth?!?”

We don’t know who was dispensing this wisdom and it’s due to it being from an “anonymous source”.

I hearken back to the “rumor” that the Phillies and Cardinals were talking about a trade of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols; supposedly there was an executive in the Phillies organization who leaked this idea. Buster Olney broke it; ESPN discussed it as if it had some validity.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. shot it down as if it was nonsense and seemed angry about it because it was so stupid.

It sounded like nonsense because it was nonsense. I said at the time that I’d have found out who it was (if they exist)—one way or the other—and fired that person.

Who knows where it comes from?

Cafardo has a point with Papelbon—there are options available, but those same options could hinder Papelbon’s hopes to land a big, long-term contract. The relationship between pitcher and club has been complicated; he wants to get paid and the Red Sox aren’t going to break the bank to keep him. He might stay because he doesn’t have much of a choice, but it won’t be because the Red Sox are desperate for him to stay.

As a rule, the Red Sox don’t think as much of the designated “closer” role as other clubs do and while Papelbon has gotten the big outs in the post-season, that won’t yield him a 4-5 year deal from them.

Will another team?

That, more than anonymous quotes or writer’s suggestions will determine whether Papelbon stays or goes.

//