A small opening could net the Mets a global star

MLB, Uncategorized

Beane

With the New York Mets 11-1 start a distant memory and the likelihood of an extended hot streak to get back into contention growing increasingly remote by the day, speculation as to the club’s next move is rampant. Most are either unrealistic or of the Band-Aid variety.

Little has been said about the status of the front office and general manager Sandy Alderson other than that the Wilpons have confidence in him and that he is working under a two-year contract signed in the offseason.

There is no denying that the acquisitions and retentions the Mets made over the winter have not panned out. Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, A.J. Ramos and Jose Reyes have ranged from bad to disastrous. That’s not counting the in-season signing of Jose Bautista and the discarding of Matt Harvey.

Part of it is financial. It is a valid argument to say that a New York-based team should not be playing at the low minimum tables hoping to get supernaturally lucky. It remains unknown whether that is Alderson’s choice, due to financial limitations imposed by ownership, or a combination of the two. To absolve Alderson of all guilt here is absurd. How they react is the question.

The Mets are not the organization that fires people haphazardly. Whatever is said about the Wilpons, they are loyal to those in club baseball operations, often to a fault. Also, it is rare that they hire outsiders with Alderson being an exception that was clearly done with encouragement from Major League Baseball.

As the club comes apart and regardless of the negatives said about ownership, they’re not in a cocoon where they hear, see and know nothing. They’re completely aware of what’s going on and how the organization is perceived. They are attentive to fan anger and, while it might be delayed, will eventually act.

But act how?

A series of player moves and adjustments to the current management scheme is cosmetic. What the team needs is to change the story from the top down and, as Susan Slusser writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, there might very well be the rare combination of juice and competence available to ignite the fan base and keep the raging masses quiet in the name of a legendary executive, Billy Beane.

The flux in the Oakland Athletics upper tier is only part of the reason that Beane could choose to move on. While Slusser’s piece is speculative and mentions the Bay Area neighbors, the San Francisco Giants, as a possible landing spot if Beane wants to remain in the area, it should be remembered that the baseball boss of those Giants, Brian Sabean, has three of something that Beane – despite all the accolades, fame and fortune – does not: World Series trophies. Replacing Sabean with Beane might seem on-paper logical if Sabean chooses to leave, but how does going across the Bay and winning a championship do anything to help Beane’s legacy? It does not give him the one level of recognition that has eluded him as something more than a father figure of the sabermetric movement and increasingly mythical idol whose exploits are more fantasy than fact.

Therein lies the question if Beane does choose to leave the A’s: What does he want to do and where is the best opportunity to do it?

Beane is now a global star and his interests are diverse. Sure, he could go on the lecture circuit like a former U.S. president, make a fortune and relax, but would someone of Beane’s furious energy and enormous ego be satisfied by that?

The main attraction to Beane would be achieving the only remaining goal by having those who see through Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” for the twisted nonsense it is to accord Beane the legitimacy that he currently lacks. While the story made him famous, it wasn’t long before it became an albatross, glossing over Beane’s true status as an excellent executive, if not the infallible genius and borderline biblical baseball figure who transcended his sport.

Much of that was Beane’s fault for taking part in it, taking advantage of it, and for believing that he was more than he was. In fairness, it’s impossible for even the most grounded people not to get caught up in that level of adulation. Beane’s own failures as a player and rise as an executive quenched much of that thirst to be somebody, but there remains that missing piece. He’s wealthy, he’s still idolized, and he’s built and rebuilt the A’s with a different cast of characters and in multiple baseball landscapes three different times. Despite that, a championship and even a pennant has eluded him like a cosmic joke.

The idea of him taking over a European football (soccer) team is as presumptuous as it is Sisyphean. What’s the risk-reward? It’s a reversion back to his afterglow egomania of Moneyball. As Beane gallivanted as a “star”, the A’s appeared to be a diversion which received a fraction of the necessary attention – that same attention that Beane lavished on the organization to succeed under difficult financial circumstances, change the game (for better and worse), and become a worldwide phenomenon. Once he took hands-on control of the organization again, he rebuilt and cemented his status as more than the totem of a skillfully conniving writer like Lewis.

For him, the A’s have become a case of diminishing returns. With the changes mentioned in Slusser’s article, apart from nostalgia, does he even want to stay?

Should Beane leave the A’s (speculative), remain in baseball (more speculative), and look for a challenge commensurate with his public image (difficult), where could he go?

Based on baseball’s current state in which front office executives are stars in their own constellation, there are very few jobs that will be open, even for Beane. Most clubs have their own “star” GMs or presidents of baseball operations and they are are ensconced. Others have younger GMs who are in the middle of rebuilds and have the trust of ownership.

Forgetting the idea of him going to the Giants, there are three teams that make varying levels of sense: the Baltimore Orioles, the Miami Marlins and the Mets.

Would Peter and John Angelos hire Beane and take the hands-off approach he would need? Would they pay him? Would Beane want to go into the same division with the banes of his existence, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and do so with a far higher payroll than he current works with in Oakland, but still a limit on how much he can spend?

It’s hard to see.

Would Derek Jeter cede the spotlight? Would he pay him? And even with the new ballpark in Miami that has been denied Beane for so long in Oakland, even if he turns the Marlins into a winner and gets that championship, the city really doesn’t care.

Then there’s the Mets.

There’s a salable storyline with the Mets being the team that drafted Beane in the first round in 1980 as the expected outfield bookend the number one overall pick that year, Darryl Strawberry, and his failure as a prospect with the Mets. It was Alderson who brought Beane into the A’s front office and mentored him. It works from the organization’s perspective and Beane’s perspective were Alderson to recede into a consultant’s role and Beane to take over as president of baseball operations.

Beane gives them that immediate credibility and someone young enough to believe he’ll be there for an extended period to any plan through to its conclusion. There’s the allure of the big city, one that is massive enough and will offer the attention and worship he so craves should he succeed. Unlike most GM candidates or Alderson’s likely heir apparent John Ricco, Beane’s reputation and style would sufficiently intimidate the media to let him work without their inane suggestions and blatant trolling. Beane has the star power to quiet the critics and give the fans something to cling to that goes beyond random trades, free agent signings, or tactical changes with the fundamental issues remaining the same.

To Beane’s benefit, he can take solace in similar factors which, simultaneously, could spur his desire to jump back into the ring fulltime as he would need to do to fix the Mets. As disgusted as much of baseball was with how he began to inhabit the character “Billy Beane” rather than being Billy Beane, the irony is that like some Dickensian tale, there are far more loathsome characters in baseball whose behavior dwarfs anything Beane did during his heyday. Theo Epstein, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Preller and many others might have taken the Beane mantle and been far more despicable in their cold-bloodedness, the flouting of rules and propriety, and doing whatever is necessary to win even if it’s bordering on the vile in treatment of people like vessels for their own fulfillment.

There are natural sticking points to this happening. First, Beane must opt out of the Faustian bargain he made to become so famous in the first place; second, the Wilpons must decide what to do with Alderson and Ricco; and the Mets must give Beane the money and necessary freedom to make it worth his while.

There’s an opening, if only a minuscule crack, for the Mets to do something that will garner them attention not as a punchline and can fundamentally change how the organization is perceived. That something is to make a bold move on Billy Beane.

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American League Remaining Schedule and Playoff Chance Analysis

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Ballparks, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for all the teams still in the hunt for an American League playoff berth.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 89-58; 15 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 9.5 games, American League East

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Rays; 3 games vs. Yankees; 3 games vs. Orioles; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 2 games at Rockies; 3 games at Orioles

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League by five games. They’re going to have a significant say in which team gets the second Wild Card given their six games against the Orioles and four against the Yankees. They’re not going to lay down as evidenced by manager John Farrell’s somewhat odd – but successful – decision last night to use Koji Uehara is a tie game that meant nothing to them. I’m wondering if Farrell has received advice from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on going for the throat at all costs because it was a Belichick move.

They don’t seem to have a preference as to whether they knock out the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. They’re playing all out, all the way.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 84-61; 17 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 3 games, American League West

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Twins; 3 games at Rangers; 3 games vs. Angels; 4 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Angels; 3 games at Mariners

The A’s lead the Rangers by three games and have three games with them this weekend. Strength of schedule can be a dual-edged sword. This isn’t the NFL, but teams whose seasons are coming to a disappointing close are just as likely to get some motivation by playing teams that have something to play for as they are to bag it and give up. The Angels have played better lately and the Mariners can pitch.

Detroit Tigers

Record: 84-62; 16 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 6.5 games, American League Central

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Royals; 4 games vs. Mariners; 3 games vs. White Sox; 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games vs. Marlins

The Tigers’ upcoming schedule is pretty weak and they have a good cushion for the division. They can’t coast, but they can relax a bit.

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-64; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 3 games, American League West; lead first Wild Card by 3.5 games

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Athletics; 4 games at Rays; 3 games at Royals; 3 games vs. Astros; 4 games vs. Angels

The Rangers are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs entirely if they slip up over the next ten games. All of those teams have something to play for and the Rangers have been slumping.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 78-66; 18 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 9.5 games, American League East; lead second Wild Card by 1 game

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Red Sox; 3 games at Twins; 4 games at Rangers; 4 games at Orioles; 3 games at Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays

With the way they’re currently playing (think the 2007 Mets) they’re not going to right their ship in time to make the playoffs. They’d better wake up. Fast.

New York Yankees

Record: 78-68; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 10.5 games; 1 game behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Orioles; 3 games at Red Sox; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Giants; 3 games vs. Rays; 3 games at Astros

There’s a reluctance to say it, but the Yankees are better off without this current version of Derek Jeter. He was hurting the team offensively and defensively. Their problem has nothing to do with schedules or how they’re playing, but with age and overuse. They’re hammering away with their ancient veterans for one last group run. Mariano Rivera is being repeatedly used for multiple innings out of necessity; Alex Rodriguez is hobbled; David Robertson is pitching hurt; Shawn Kelley isn’t 100 percent; Andy Pettitte is gutting his way through. If they’re in it in the last week, will there be any gas left in their collective tanks?

Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 6.5 games, American League Central; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 4 games at White Sox; 3 games at Royals; 4 games vs. Astros; 2 games vs. White Sox; 4 games at Twins

The White Sox are playing about as badly as the Astros without the excuse of lack of talent/innocent youth. They just don’t seem to care. The Indians’ schedule pretty much guarantees they’ll at least be alive in the last week of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Fourth Place by 11 games, American League East; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games at Red Sox; 4 games at Rays; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Red Sox

The Red Sox are taking great, sadistic pleasure in hampering the playoff hopes of anyone and everyone and have shown no preference in who they’re beating on. This will hurt and/or help the Orioles. The big games to watch are those four with the Rays.

Kansas City Royals

Record: 77-69; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 7 games, American League Central; 2 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 3 games at Tigers; 3 games vs. Indians; 3 games vs. Rangers; 3 games at Mariners; 4 games at White Sox

I’d like to see the Royals make the playoffs because: A) they’re a likable young team; B) we need some new blood in the post-season; and B) the likes of Rany Jazayerli, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and the rest of the stat-obsessed “experts” who live to bash the Royals will either have to admit they’re wrong (unlikely) or will join together to play a disturbing game of middle-aged men Twister (hopefully clothed) to justify why they were “right” even though Dayton Moore’s moves worked and the Royals leapt into contention and more.

It will be nice having an experienced arm like James Shields for a one-game Wild Card playoff or for the first game of the ALDS. I have a feeling about the Royals making the playoffs. And it’s gonna be funny.




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Matt Garza’s Tweets As A Cause Célèbre For Sports Feminism And Its Poseurs

Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Politics

Your word of the day is misogynist.

I didn’t realize that Matt Garza’s statements were so important that when he says something that is viewed as offensive to women it elicits the strong response and bandwagon jumping we’re seeing from those who are acting angry or trying to make themselves sound progressive.

Rangers’ righty Garza created a controversy when he responded to Athletics’ infielder Eric Sogard executing a squeeze bunt by jawing at Sogard and then going after Sogard and his wife on Twitter. You can read about the exchange here. Baseball’s true tough guys, long since retired (Dave Parker, Ray Knight, Kevin Mitchell), are all asking in unison: “What the hell is Twitter?”

What was a silly Twitter fight turned into a flag-waving cause for those who are either declaring themselves hard-core feminists and seeing gender-based conspiracies detracting from their sports knowledge or a sycophantic agree-fest for those who don’t want to anger the aforementioned feminists. This piece on CBS Sports was emblematic of a distancing from male-female chasm. The editorial-like conclusion was as follows:

Garza needs to grow up and accept the fact he got beat on the field fair and square.

It’s a unique skill to combine elementary school simplicity with parental scolding and self-indulgent solidarity. All that’s missing is a “Nyah, nyah, nyah” at the end.

What you have is women clutching at this like the newest-latest of reasons why they’re disrespected and men who try to make sure they’re onboard and won’t be the next target of the angered masses.The race/gender card is so cheap and easy to use that few even dare to use it anymore unless they have nothing else to say or are desperately seeking attention and approval. If a person’s gender or sexual orientation is used as a reason to denigrate their opinion, it’s a pretty good bet that the person doing the denigrating isn’t all that bright to begin with. So why the over-the-top reaction?

In and of itself, this “story” is ridiculous. Garza should probably have thought twice before choosing to engage in this kind of diatribe, but he’s right in his last tweet of the day when he basically told people if they don’t like him, don’t follow. It’s that simple…unless there’s an ulterior motive. And in this case and any case in which there’s a perceived or crafted offense against a gender or group, there’s a clear ulterior motive of individuals drawing attention to themselves by latching onto this silliness to further their own ends and taking off with it like Usain Bolt at a track meet.

What we see from women who are mock-offended by Garza is another opportunity to express how unenlightened some men are as to the battle of the sexes and that statements such as those made by Garza are “hindering” their cause. Except it’s not hindering their cause. Much like Keith Hernandez’s rant about the Padres’ female trainer being in uniform in the dugout and Rob Dibble’s sexist comments in the broadcast booth, these are not men in a position of power where it matters what they say. Self-righteous political correctness is exponentially worse than political correctness. If it were a GM or an owner who said something like this, then it’s a reason to reply with a level of force. It’s Matt Garza. Unless there’s an agenda, who cares what he says?

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Rethinking the GM, Part III—American League West

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, 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 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

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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Keys to 2013: Oakland Athletics

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Starting Pitching Key: Jarrod Parker

With the departure of Brandon McCarthy and the questionable status of Bartolo Colon (he’s getting blasted in spring training following his suspension for PED use), the A’s need Parker to step in and be a top-of-the-rotation starter with 200 innings and ace-level performance to match his abilities. Once he harnesses control of his live fastball and gets his changeup over the plate, he can be a star. He has to mature sooner rather than later if the A’s have any chance to repeat their success from 2012.

Relief Pitching Key: Ryan Cook

Grant Balfour is streaky as the closer and in 2012 lost his job to Cook. He regained the job and held it during the team’s magical run to the division title. While Balfour will start the season as the closer, he’s a free agent at the end of the season and will be looking for more money than the A’s are willing to pay. Maybe something can be worked out that’s agreeable to both sides for Balfour to stay. Balfour must be cognizant of the crashing market for closers and understand that the A’s aren’t married to the concept of the highest paid arm automatically closing based on his salary. Cook is the cheap closer for the future if Balfour’s gone and maybe even if Balfour’s still there.

Offensive Key: Josh Reddick

Anytime there’s a player who surpasses what could reasonably have been expected in a realistic scenario, it’s unwise to think he’ll repeat it. That could be said of Brandon Moss and it could be said of Reddick.

In spite of Billy Beane playing up the journeyman Moss and refusing to discuss him in trades, the sudden display of power from Moss might disappear as rapidly as it happened. With Reddick, the A’s got him for his superior outfield defense and figured he’d hit 15-20 homers if he played every day. Instead, he hit 32. They’ve bolstered the offense with the acquisitions of Jed Lowrie, Hiroyuki Nakajima, John Jaso and Chris Young. Even with that, they need at least 25 from Reddick in 2013 to mitigate Moss’s unavoidable fall to earth.

Defensive Key: Hiroyuki Nakajima

It’s unfair to pigeonhole Japanese imports because of the failures of their predecessors, but if something repeatedly happens, it has to be factored into the equation. Neither Kazuo Matsui nor Tsuyoshi Nishioka could play shortstop well enough defensively to stay there. Matsui could hit a bit and was moved to second base, having a few productive years after he left the Mets; Nishioka was a disaster for the Twins.

Nakajima will get the first shot at shortstop for the A’s, but they acquired Lowrie because they know he can handle the position defensively. If Nakajima hits but proves to be another Japanese player who can’t cover the ground on grass that he did on the preferred surface in Japan, turf, he’ll play at third or second with Lowrie taking over at short. How long the A’s stick with him at short if he can’t play the position adequately is the question. Given the way Beane runs the team, it won’t be long before a move is made if Nakajima can’t do it.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

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The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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Zack Greinke Reverberations and Madness

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Zack Greinke has reportedly agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a 6-year, $147 million contract. Let’s look at the reality and reactions.

The money

For those looking at the Greinke money, comparing him to pitchers from years past and wondering what they would’ve earned had they entered free agency at the same age as Greinke, it’s a stupid question and argument. What would Sandy Koufax get? What would Pedro Martinez get? What would Greg Maddux get? What would Randy Johnson get?

Does it matter? Had they been free agents at age 29 in 2012, they would’ve gotten more money than Greinke. But they’re not. So it’s meaningless speculation.

Then there are the complaints that it’s “too much” money—not in context of pitchers who were better than Greinke, but in context, period.

The pitchers listed above weren’t available. As for the contract itself, how is “enough” quantified? Would $120 million be acceptable? Why is $147 million “too much” and what amount is “just right?”

Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, found a team willing to pay him, and he got the most money. If and when Justin Verlander is a free agent (and he probably won’t be), he’ll set the market. That’s capitalism. That’s baseball.

The media

Joel Sherman exemplifies the half-wit media by saying the following on Twitter:

I know timing/supply-demand determine $, but if you had to pick 10 SP to win game for your life, would Greinke even be in the 10?

First he says essentially the same thing I said and made perfect sense in saying it regarding supply and demand. Then he ruins it by making a ridiculous assertion about a “game for your life” that there’s no way to prove its veracity one way or the other until after the fact. Greinke pitched poorly in his one post-season chance, but he was no Kenny Rogers—a thoroughly overmatched, frightened, and non-competitive performer for both the Yankees and Mets who no one could’ve thought he’d turn in the masterful work he provided in the 2006 playoffs and World Series when he was all but unhittable.

Was Dave Stewart a post-season ace before he became one? Was Curt Schilling?

You don’t know until you know. It’s not as if Greinke is tricking people with a pitch that could abandon him at any moment. Like the aforementioned Johnson and Martinez, they know what’s coming and can’t hit it.

This type of “analysis” is a desperate search to be contrary and not based on fact at all.

For the rest of baseball

The “haves and have nots” argument no longer applies as teams like the Athletics and Rays have shown the way of keeping their players or trading them away at their high value to maintain realistic cost while contending. The idea that Billy Beane’s strategies stopped working is accurate. Other teams caught onto what he was doing, souped it up and spent money for the undervalued assets he was able to get on the cheap before. The Rays adapted and overtook the A’s as the team that maximized what they had and could afford with new data and not the old “on base percentage as the Holy Grail” and “counting cards in the draft” idiocy.

The big money clubs who’ve spent wildly haven’t distinguished themselves with annual championships; in fact, many of the clubs have turned into overpriced embarrassments who, like the Yankees, are paring down to avoid luxury tax penalties and are rapidly heading toward a collapse because they tried to copy the Rays and even the Red Sox in development and failed miserably. The Red Sox, Angels, Marlins, and Phillies spent madly in the last several years and the results varied from disastrous to mediocre.

Teams that want to prevent Greinke-like contracts have to take the risk and do what the Rays have done with Evan Longoria, the Pirates have done with Andrew McCutchen, and the Rays and Mets have done with Matt Moore and Jonathon Niese—sign them early and hope they make it worth the team’s while to do it.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers spending spree doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win in and of itself, but they do have some semblance of continuity backed up by the new money their ownership is spreading around, much to the anger and chagrin of all observers due to jealousy or the simple desire to complain.

It made no sense to pay $2 billion and then try to create a winner with an $80 million payroll and prove how much smarter their baseball people are than everyone else. It made no sense to hire Stan Kasten as team president and have Magic Johnson as a front man and not let them do what they do the way they know how to do it.

Kasten is a professional dealmaker and, unlike Randy Levine across the country with the Yankees, isn’t despised and openly meddling with the baseball operations implying that he knows more than he does (and Kasten is a qualified baseball man, unlike Levine). Kasten helped build the enduring Braves playoff dynasty using development and Ted Turner’s money to keep his own players, trade the minor leaguers for veterans, develop youngsters for the Braves’ use, bolster the club with Maddux-like stars, and let his GM John Schuerholz be the GM and the manager Bobby Cox be the manager.

He’s repeating the process with the Dodgers, Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly.

Comparisons to the aforementioned clubs that spent insanely is not accurate as a “that didn’t work, so neither will what the Dodgers are doing.” The Dodgers spent a ton of money and are asking their manager Mattingly, “What do you need?” whereas the Angels, with a new GM Jerry Dipoto who didn’t hire Mike Scioscia had different theories on how a team should be run; the owner Arte Moreno betrayed what it was that made the Angels a beacon of how to put a club together as he spent on players who simply didn’t fit and created a glut and altered identity, leading to the image of dysfunction and disarray.

The Red Sox made a mess in 2011, compounded that mess in 2012, and are getting back to their roots with questionable decisions currently being made by Ben Cherington when the jury is still out on whether he’s one of those executives who was better off as an assistant.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has the countenance and behavior of a character straight out of a Dickens story with barely concealed greed and unrepentant evil, while Magic is the charming frontman to bring the fans in and impress the players with his star power.

Star power.

Magic was a Lakers star with a star coach Pat Riley and a glittery style that inspired the moniker “Showtime.” It wasn’t just a show. The Lakers were a great team with star talent surrounding Magic in the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, underappreciated stars like James Worthy, and gritty tough guys like Kurt Rambis. Magic is the epitome of cool who knows everyone, gets invited to every party, has access to all the trappings of Los Angeles with the age and wisdom to advise players what and whom to avoid. He’s got an eye not just on winning, but winning in the Hollywood fashion with stars and style. He’ll fill Dodger Stadium and make it the cool place to go again; he’ll recruit the players; he’ll represent the team to make everyone money; and he won’t overstep his bounds into the baseball ops.

They didn’t buy it as an investment to flip in a few years; they bought it to turn it into a greater financial powerhouse and increase its value. That’s what they’re doing and Greinke is a cog in that machine to achieve the end.

And for Greinke

No one will ever know whether Greinke, whose past emotional problems are given far too much weight considering they six years ago and haven’t cropped up since, could’ve dealt with New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

Going to the East Coast with the pressures and expectations inherent with the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies wasn’t a good fit. But the Angels weren’t matching the Dodgers’ cash and the Rangers were the main competition for the pitcher’s services and were a winning, positive locale for him and his former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader wife. But they were outbid and have other, more reasonably priced options via trade.

That left the Dodgers. It’s a laid back atmosphere as a matter of course; they already have an ace in Clayton Kershaw so the pressure won’t be as great for Greinke to win 25 games; and no one will bother him as they would in New York, Boston, or Philly.

He got his money; he’s a great pitcher; and will continue to be a great pitcher for a Dodgers team that is a legitimate championship contender.

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Jeff Wilpon’s Lesson: Never Answer Questions

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Would the reaction to Jeff Wilpon be any different had he chosen not to respond to questions about David Wright and R.A. Dickey? If Wilpon, who was in Far Rockaway along with Matt Harvey giving away meals to victims of Hurricane Sandy, had uttered “no comment” to the questions about the club, then that would’ve been the story. He chose to answer and now it’s become more fodder for the franchise its own fans use as a punching bag, a sadomasochistic device, and an exercise in self-mutilation like running to the bathroom to cut themselves and covering it up with a Mets wristband.

Why is it okay for the Red Sox to clear out their entire house at mid-season to give themselves the oft-repeated buzzword “financial flexibility”; for the Diamondbacks to listen to offers on Justin Upton; that the Rays are always open for business on every player under their employ; the A’s do bizarre things and dump all their highly paid players like the Marlins just did, but Billy Beane at the time was still called “smarter than the average bear”, yet the Mets can’t merely mention the word “trade” without it turning into another indictment of the franchise and prophecies of doom that both Wright and Dickey are essentially gone?

No one knows what’s going to happen. Even supposed “insiders” are constantly getting their facts wrong or are twisting what they know to suit editorial edicts in order to forward the storyline that the Mets are in familiar disarray to spur conversation, webhits, and the circular entity of the 24-hour news cycle.

The Orioles were considered a joke until 2012 when, all of a sudden, it’s not such a bad place anymore because they had a shockingly great year; no longer is there the ridicule of their decision to pluck Dan Duquette from oblivion and install him as their GM and players are willing to go to Baltimore for more than just one final payday from a desperate franchise.

In the aftermath of Beane’s winter overhaul/gutting in 2011 when the Athletics traded away every recognizable player and walked away with a haul of prospects, they suddenly found themselves making the playoffs.

The Angels were considered the go-to franchise for top-to-bottom cohesion, and now look totally dysfunctional and clinging to the past with Mike Scioscia and the future with Jerry Dipoto not even reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

And the Red Sox, whose decline from what they were in the winter of 2010-2011 to where they are now doesn’t even warrant the word “plummet”.

Teams spend. Teams save. Teams sign and trade. They dispatch and allow stars to leave. This past season proved that no combination of these is a precursor to winning or losing regardless of what outsider “experts” believe.

No matter what the Mets decide, it’s hard to foresee them receiving more punishment than they currently do, so why shouldn’t they have every option on the table including trades of Wright and Dickey now or at mid-season? Fans and critics have to accept this truth: the Wilpons are not selling the team; they are still digging their way through the financial mess the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme created; and the team is being rebuilt. Whether or not that includes Wright or Dickey is neither here nor there and the team would be remiss by not having every single option on the table. A trade is on that table whether the word is uttered or not.

Wilpon was asked a question and he answered it. That’s all it was.

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The Cheap Shots Against Mike Francesa Are Unnecessary

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WFAN in New York announced yesterday that, starting in November, the longtime AM station on 660 here in New York will be simulcast on 101.9 FM—NY Times Story. How much longer they’re going to be broadcasting with their signature name on the station, Mike Francesa, is unknown, but if the cheap shots perpetrated by media “watchers,” columnists, callers, and critics continue, it wouldn’t be a shock for the 58-year-old Francesa to give it a few more years and walk away for an easier, less time-consuming job. If he chose to relax his schedule, one of the multitudes of NFL shows on CBS, Fox, NFL Network, or many others would certainly have him. Presumably, CBS would be pleased to have Francesa discussing golf and NCAA basketball along with football.

With young children at home, the question for Francesa will change from, “What will I do if I don’t have this outlet 5-6 days a week to talk sports,” to, “Do I need this aggravation and to put in all these hours if I have to deal with 24/7 ridicule for minuscule missteps?”

If you’d like to attack Francesa for his pomposity, egomania, occasional laziness, dismissal of those who disagree with him, and overbearing demeanor, then fine. Go nuts. But in another piece in today’s NY Times, when discussing Tigers’ pitcher Al Alburquerque’s strange decision to kiss the baseball before throwing Athletics’ outfielder Yoenis Cespedes out on a comebacker in game 2 of the ALDS, the author mentions Francesa’s confusion as to what a caller was talking about when he referenced Alburquerque a year ago during the Tigers-Yankees ALDS series.

Why?

Did it fit into the narrative or was it just tossed in there in case someone did a search on the Times website for “Mike Francesa”?

Yesterday another caller cryptically and in an unfunny fashion alluded to Francesa’s famous falling asleep episode from last month while WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was on. Francesa made the mistake of first denying it happened, and now when it’s broached, he goes into a long diatribe about his 20+ year career in broadcasting, the awards he’s won, etc. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to make a joke about it. It happened. I didn’t see it as a big deal then and it’s not a big deal now. It’s a bigger story if he or anyone manages to stay awake during a Sweeny Murti appearance.

Say what you want about Francesa, but he worked hard to get where he is. No one handed it to him and, at his age, it’s not easy to sit in a studio alone 6 days a week and talk sports for 5+ hours a day. Also, he has to read commercials, do appearances, and the other aspects of being a sports personality that take time and energy to do and that listeners aren’t aware of or think takes much effort.

During the summer, Francesa is often criticized for the amount of vacation time he takes. As stated before, he has young children. The days of working, working, working have to stop sometime. Part of it is his fault for not taking on a partner to replace Chris Russo. The show would probably be better and he’d have someone to pick up the slack, but that’s his choice. What those who seem determined to drive him off the air have to ask themselves is what they’ll be listening to if Francesa chooses to end this losing battle and go do something that isn’t as taxing. If you’ve listened to what WFAN puts on in his stead over those summer months when he’s off, you realize that the alternatives are not only weak, but they’re boring, skittish, obnoxious, and unlistenable unless you prefer them to the choices of Sean Hannity, bad top-40, dated rock, or shutting the radio off entirely.

Keep pushing Francesa out the door and you’ll learn that not only is his afternoon spot going to be difficult to fill literally, but figuratively as well.

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American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

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