Poor Billy

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So you’re trapped in a division with two powerhouses.

You play in an awful, antiquated and uninviting home park that, in spite of your best efforts, will never be suitably habitable for your baseball team, has few amenities and won’t attract the casual fans, season ticket holders and suite buyers looking to impress clients.

You have a few marketable players—young and talented—signed to reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future.

But the expectations are that you can’t compete because of the above factors.

What do you do?

Do you stick to the blueprint you created to combat these obstacles in your path?

Or do you give up the present and dream of a new ballpark; the ability to relocate; a bolt from the heavens to save you from your inescapable fate?

Well, if you’re the Rays you stick to what you have and try to find a way to win.

And you succeed.

If you’re the Athletics and Billy Beane, you continue the trend of playing the hapless everyman locked in the vacancy of a medieval prison and praying on a daily basis to the Baseball Gods that something, somewhere, someone, somehow will help you to escape this purgatory.

You move forward ably assisted by those in the media, fans and industry who are still immersed in your crafted reputation based on a skillfully presented piece of creative non-fiction that is becoming more and more absurd by the day; the same piece of creative non-fiction that was dramatically licensed into a film and made worse with mischaracterizations, twisted facts and outright falsehoods, yet is given credibility because it was made by an Academy Award winning director, Bennett Miller and has the “sexiest man alive”, Brad Pitt portraying you.

You’re still living off of Moneyball. You’re trying to alter the plot to make it appear as if nothing is your fault.

But those inconvenient facts keep popping up.

Of course there are those who still cling to this aura of genius and shield you to the last. They utter such inanities as “Billy Beane isn’t to blame for sad state of A’s” and Bruce Jenkins plays the role as the defense lawyer trying to defend the indefensible.

Through strategic leaks from devoted emissaries, it was made clear that you wanted the Cubs job. “Billy’s willing to listen to the Cubs,” etc. One problem: the Cubs didn’t want you. They never approached you. They had no interest in you. What made it worse was that they had their sights set on someone who might not have existed had it not been for you; for Michael Lewis; for Moneyball. Theo Epstein was their one and only target and they got him. Epstein’s rise came as a direct result of your somewhat understandable, part-family/part-prescient/part legacy decision that led to you staying with the Athletics.

By now we all know what would’ve happened had you followed through on your handshake agreement to take over the Red Sox.

For ten years, Red Sox Nation has had a paper bag handy to collectively hyperventilate at the carnage your tenure would have wrought both financially and practically. They offered you something in the neighborhood of $12.5 million and were going to allow you to spend a substantial amount of time running the team remotely from your home on the West Coast so you could be near your young daughter…and away from the stifling fishbowl that is Boston sports.

But luckily for them, you backed out.

Down the drain went your plans to trade Jason Varitek; to sign a nearly finished Edgardo Alfonzo; to sign someone named Mark Johnson to replace Varitek; to make Manny Ramirez a DH.

Who’s David Ortiz? Would you have known? Would your luck have been similar to that of Epstein to sign a released player such as Ortiz?

The Red Sox won a championship two years after you declined their offer and, as Moneyball the movie says, used the principles that you created.

Except you didn’t create them

You implemented them.

For that you deserve praise, but not to the degree where nothing is ever your fault; where you receive accolades for what goes well and constant, worshipful, caveat-laden pieces on every possible outlet giving you a free pass for what has gone wrong.

You get the credit.

You never get the blame.

What a wonderful world it is in Oakland.

Why would you ever want to leave? You’re an owner now.

Based on nothing.

You’re bulletproof to criticism.

Based on nothing.

You’re doing whatever it is you want looking toward the future ballpark, money, luxury suites, season-ticket sales, WINNING!!! that someday, someday, someday will come.

Based on nothing.

The Rays are living with the hovering terror of the Yankees and Red Sox in a division that is far more treacherous and hopeless than anything you’ve ever experienced and they’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four years.

What have you done?

They detail a plan and execute it.

You fling things at the wall, make your speaking engagements, wallow in the idolatry and reset the computer when too much malware accumulates.

And you make money.

To augment the young pitching you developed, you tried to win in 2009 by acquiring an MVP-quality bat in Matt Holliday, reaching into the past with Jason Giambi and signing a leader-type veteran Orlando Cabrera.

Your team was a disaster.

You retooled.

In 2011, you signed and traded for veteran bats Josh Willingham and David DeJesus along with established bullpen arms Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

Again to augment the young pitching you developed.

Your team was a disaster.

So you abandon the young pitching because, obviously, that was the flaw in your plan. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey were traded away for that “future”.

At least you’ve kept Coco Crisp and are looking at Ryan Ludwick.

That’ll work because you’re a genius.

By my count, this is rebuild number five. The fifth time you’ve retooled and purged the club of any and all players making a reasonable amount of money as you purse your lips and nod, gazing toward the sun and stars.

Someday, someday, someday.

The ballpark, the young prospects, the drafts, the hope, the hype—one day it’ll happen. Then you’ll win. Then your resume will be legitimate and not based on a mythmaker with an agenda.

It’s lasted forever.

Where and when does it end?

When is someone—anyone—going to stop and look at you with the vaunted “objective analysis” that you harped on so ferociously like a hypnotizing mantra that your congregation and followers so avidly repeated and used to shelter you?

It’s enough.

You’re not staying in Oakland because you don’t want to abandon the team in its time of need. You’re staying in Oakland because the industry sees right through you and your propaganda and no one else wants you.

And it’s enough.

You’ve lived off of Moneyball for ten years. Now we’re approaching the logical conclusion as the only salvation you have left is the old standby of “bad ballpark, bad fans, bad competition, bad rules, bad, bad, bad”. Those who are either too stupid to see or too invested in your supposed genius to acknowledge the truth maintain their blindness, deafness, dumbness.

Your team is a train wreck; you gave up on 2012, 2013 and 2014 because you don’t have any answers left and are clinging to a sinking life preserver in a dark, unforgiving sea.

Yet there are no sharks.

Where are they?

Are they responding to editorial edict to continually show you in the best possible light? Are they afraid of the reaction to stating facts that a large segment of the baseball public doesn’t want to hear?

The plausible deniability you maintain in having allowed the disparagement of Art Howe in print and on film is more telling about your selfishness than anything else you’ve done; Howe, who absent the hyperbole you had as a player, had a workmanlike and respected career you could never have hoped to have and saw his reputation as a baseball man torn to shreds by Moneyball the book and then was made worse by tearing him apart as a human being in the movie. Never once was he contextualized. You never said a word when you could’ve and should’ve.

Nothing.

Because it was to your convenience that he—and you—be judged that way.

It’s terrific to use a reputation as a bodyguard; to never have anything be your fault; to receive credit and no blame.

Nothing’s your fault.

Let’s shed a tear and hold a moment of silence for Poor Billy.

It’s not his fault that his team is terrible; that Moneyball was written; that he’s facing the prospect of an Angels team with Albert Pujols now leading the way; that the Rangers—emerging from bankruptcy two short years ago—have taken his stat-based techniques, bolstered them with old-school strategies and scouting acumen and now have back-to-back pennant winners and won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Moneyball is bankrupt as well, but there’s no Chapter 11 protection from its chapters full of lies. Being morally bankrupt doesn’t count I suppose even with the protections you’ve received.

Nothing’s your fault.

The Rays are in a worse situation than you.

But at least they try.

So wallow in the love. Accept the sympathy. Watch as your team loses close to 100 games.

And know the truth.

//

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The Genius Will Return…In 2015

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It’s almost biblical or a tenet of faith for any religion or cult.

According to the actions of Billy Beane along with whispers and reports from sources in the MLB front office—MLB Trade Rumors—the Athletics are likely to receive approval to build a new ballpark in San Jose. They’ll have to pay the Giants to relinquish their territorial rights, but they’re expecting to get their new park.

Until then, the apparent entreaty to suffering A’s fans is to endure; do penance; be patient; follow the great leader and put faith in him, trusting that he’ll show the way.

Support a team that’s going to be stripped down to its bare bones (again) in the hopes that someday, someday, someday the “genius” that is their overrated and propagandized GM will reappear and the team will rise to prominence.

Of course it won’t hurt that the A’s are going to have money to spend on players similarly to how the Marlins are now.

In 2015.

But for now, it’s a housecleaning.

Again.

I don’t care one way or the other what Beane says and does—I see right through him and his nonsense—but when is the mainstream media going to stop kowtowing to this man and see him for the snakeoil salesman that he is?

Since the last time the Athletics were relevant for reasons other than a celluloid bit of dramatic license or a crafty bit of creative non-fiction, Beane is on his third manager and second rebuild with one season of 81-81 since 2006 to show for it; they haven’t been contenders in spite of various attempts to recreate some semblance of competitiveness. That competitiveness from the early part of the 21st Century was based more on having three All-Star starting pitchers and stars at key positions than it was for finding “undervalued” talent and “genius” in doing so.

It’s a circular proclamation based on a lie and there’s nothing to replicate. He’s not a card-counter—he’s flinging darts at a dartboard while blindfolded. It’s partially his fault; partially due to circumstance; partially due to an attempt to maintain that veneer of brilliance that was never accurate to begin with.

Regardless of the positive analysis of the packages of young players Beane’s received in trading Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez (and presumably what he’ll get for Andrew Bailey and whatever else isn’t nailed to the floor), why does he have to tear apart what’s already in place in anticipation of whenever the new park is going to be open for business?

Is that the shining light off in the distance now? The new park?

The A’s spent years cultivating the young core of pitchers; they’re all in their mid-20s and the types of arms around whom a club should be built. Twice he’s tried to bring in veteran bats to augment those young arms and they’ve failed both times; but that’s a reflection on him and bad luck than it is a failing of the concept of keeping the young pitchers and trying to find someone, anyone who can produce offensively.

In 2009, he made what turned out to be a disastrous trade for Matt Holliday in which he surrendered Carlos Gonzalez; signed a shot-as-an-everyday player Jason Giambi and an out-of-place Orlando Cabrera.

It didn’t work.

In 2011 he signed Hideki Matsui, Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour and traded for Josh Willingham.

It didn’t work.

So now it’s another teardown? Another reconstruction? How many does he get? Three? Five? Ten? Thirty?

A normal GM judged on his accomplishments gets maybe two rebuilds—and that’s if he’s got a track record of success a la Pat Gillick.

Can Beane be mentioned in the same breath as Gillick?

Gillick’s in the Hall of Fame; Beane’s in the Hype Hall of Fame.

Or the Gall of Fame.

Is he Connie Mack or Branch Rickey where he can do whatever he wants with impunity based on success that was fleeting and had a limited connection to anything he actually did? Success that’s perceived to be more than it was because of that book and now a movie in which he was portrayed by the “sexiest man alive”?

He’s fired managers for reasons and non-reasons. He’s blamed others and used his image and roundabout excuses to shield himself from the ridicule he deserves.

Now it’s the new ballpark that will save him.

His drafts have been mostly atrocious and the rebuilding of the farm system by trading his established players for the crown jewels of other organizations smacks of desperation.

But he’s got a plan in place. They’re loading up the farm system with power arms and bats that hit homers and get on base. And they’re not done.

The new park is the key.

Then he’ll be on the right track.

Then he’ll put a team together that’s going to win.

But it’s not going to happen until the new ballpark opens.

“We may not be much now, but you just wait boy!! Wait until we have that new park and—guess what?—will be able to spend money to buy established players. Then we’ll show you.”

Believe it if you want. Compare the A’s situation to other clubs who needed a new park, got it and became powerhouses.

But you can’t compare the A’s to the Marlins because the Marlins, in spite of a terrible 2011 season of their own amid unrealistic expectations and capricious, Steinbrenner-like behaviors of their owner Jeffrey Loria, had a foundation of young pitching and bats that the Athletics didn’t; ballpark or not, the Marlins were pretty good because they have a gutsy baseball management team that is skillful at talent recognition and does something that Beane has been shoddy at doing: finding players.

Apart from being able to spin doctor his way out of anything and manipulate the media with deft use of the language, reputation and an intimidating bullying nature, what has Beane done to warrant the pass?

Nothing.

2015 is plenty of time for Michael Lewis to plan and complete a sequel to Moneyball with a new plot.

“Billy Saves Christmas”?

“Selig’s Choice”?

What will happen when they have the new park and the latest strategy fails?

Will there be increased scrutiny on what he is and what he’s done rather than the unfounded and illogical belief the he knows what he’s doing? That it’s all part of one grand scheme to rule the world?

Salesmanship is a form of genius and the people keep buying it.

I suppose that’s something to hold onto when everything else comes undone.

***

I’ll be a guest later today with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

//

Billy Beane Is Not Ready For His Closeup

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

Tom Verducci took great care to rub Billy Beane‘s ego just the right way in the latest piece to justify Beane’s supposed “genius”—a genius that exists only in the realm of the absurd called Moneyball, coming soon to a theater near you.

More built-in excuses permeate the Sports Illustrated article.

Other baseball front offices are using Beane’s innovations, improving and streamlining them and are backed up by big money; the absence of  luxury boxes at the Oakland Coliseum hinders their ability to take advantage of the lucrative ballpark revenue; and limited payroll due to a cheap owner—which was the impetus for him finding other ways to compete at the start—all provide protection for Beane amid the fact that the Athletics were a very trendy selection for the playoffs this season but have again disappointed to the level of embarrassment.

They were picked in 2009 as well.

They were good enough to pick before 2009 and 2011 and when things didn’t go the way they were expected, the “reasons” popped up.

Was the Athletics fetish a byproduct of convenience to the narrative of Moneyball because the movie was on the way? Or did the prognosticators think that this year was when the A’s would turn the corner?

I don’t know.

All I know is that it hasn’t worked.

You can’t say the A’s are going to be good based on Beane’s decisions and then find a multitude of reasons why they’re not good to defend him. It doesn’t work that way.

In 2009, the big trade for Matt Holliday and signings of Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera didn’t yield the veteran presence to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday was traded at mid-season to the Cardinals in the annual Athletics housecleaning and the Cardinals made the playoffs; Giambi was released and wound up with the playoff-bound Rockies; Cabrera was traded to the Twins where he helped them make the playoffs.

At least Beane’s signings helped someone make the playoffs.

Are the Beane cheerleaders going to twist facts into a pretzel to somehow credit him for those playoff berths for the teams that wound up with his refuse?

In 2010, the A’s young pitching took a step forward and they wound up at…81-81.

This, of course, spurred another bout of off-season aggression as they traded for Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and signed Hideki Matsui, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to supplement the young pitching staff (again) and step up in weight class to battle with the perennials of the AL West, the Angels and the surging Rangers.

What we see now is a team that sits at (54-68) and is falling fast.

I may have given them too much credit in recent weeks when I’ve said that it’s going to be ludicrous for the film Moneyball to open while the A’s are in the midst of a 74-88 season.

They’ll be lucky to finish at 74-88.

Beane fired his “best friend”, manager Bob Geren, not because Geren was a mediocre manager who had lost the clubhouse.

No.

He fired him and blamed the media for taking the focus off the field and making the manager a story that wasn’t going to disappear until it was addressed.

The A’s hired Bob Melvin to replace Geren and Melvin is talking about what he wants for 2012.

Um, so now Beane’s manager has a say in what’s going on? Where’s the middle-managing ideal of a marionette dancing on the strings of the genius in the front office, doing what he was told and liking it? The same storyline and club that diminished one of the best managers in history, Tony LaRussa, to nothing more than a hindrance to that idiotic organizational ideal is going to let a respectable journeyman manager—in the Art Howe tradition—like Melvin have any say whatsoever in team construction? Really?

They also recently hired Phil Garner to work as a special adviser to manager Melvin.

If anyone remembers how Phil Garner managed, he was the epitome of the man who worked from his “gut”—that means “I don’t wanna hear nothin’ about no numbers”.

What’s he going to do over there? I thought Beane was the titular and all-powerful head of the organization who made every…single…decision based on objective analysis?

What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: they’re desperate; they’re a laughingstock; and they don’t know where to go or what to do next to save their one asset whose end is nearly at hand—Billy Beane.

He’s what they had.

He was their beacon; the one selling point.

Now as the team is atrocious and the movie is hurtling for the remains of his reputation like an out of control train, they know the questions will be asked after-the-fact: if he’s a genius, why’s the team so terrible?

The book and movie are for the masses who aren’t interested in the backstory and reality of what Michael Lewis was doing. The majority won’t know or care that the book is a farce and the movie is a very loose interpretation of that book—“loose” in this instance meaning unrecognizable.

But the knives are out for Beane.

Many people in baseball who were steamrolled by that same train are watching with breathless anticipation for Beane to get his comeuppance.

And it’s coming.

So what now?

As 20/20 hindsight and reality has shown us the flapdoodle (I looked up a synonym for “ridiculousness” and “flapdoodle” jumped out at me) that is Moneyball, how can any mainstream writer like Verducci have the audacity to still try and defend whatever tatters are left of Beane’s reputation?

His team is a joke.

He’s a joke.

The movie’s going to be a joke.

That’s your objective reality, folks.

Flapdoodle.

//

Passing The BuckBall

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

At what point are marketability and reputation trumped by results and overt alibis absolving oneself of blame?

I was wrong about one thing regarding the Billy Beane press conference announcing the dismissal of manager Bob Geren: he didn’t go into a long-winded academic, condescending, intimidation-tinged manifesto about taking personal responsibility for what’s gone wrong with the Athletics this year.

He blamed the media.

He mentioned the “continued speculation” about Geren’s job status; that the “focus” needed to be shifted away from the manager.

The change from Geren to Bob Melvin—a good manager and quality person—is supposedly going to achieve this end.

In retrospect and judging by what Beane’s reported to have said, he’d have been better off taking my advice from a few days ago and uttering the generalizations that all GMs have to learn when making a change.

“This is no reflection on…”

“We’re all responsible for…”

“I’m the GM and I have to take the hit for the club’s failures…”

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

But without having seen the entire transcript of the press conference, there appeared to have been none of that.

Because Geren’s job was such a topic of discussion, that was the relevant issue above his haphazard bullpen usage, lack of relationship with his players and mounting losses.

I thought Geren had done as best he could with his prior Athletics teams based on talent level. Most of the club configurations weren’t particularly good and—apart from 2009 for which he should get one pass—there were limited expectations and drastic flaws with every roster.

But what world are we living in where the manager doesn’t talk to his players? Huston Street‘s comments about hating to play for Geren were telling; Dan Haren said that Geren’s credibility was a question mark when he replaced Ken Macha in 2007 due to the perception that Beane was running the team from afar.*

*But wasn’t that known from the sacred text of Moneyball?

After the Brian Fuentes dustup and the atrocious streak of losing, Beane made the change.

How can a manager fail to talk to his players? It’s one thing to be stoically quiet and still in charge like Gil Hodges; it’s another to be oblivious and disinterested.

Even if you’re yelling at them, at least there’s some dialogue going on; but to say nothing at all? Have them wondering what you’re thinking? How do you function that way? How do you run a clubhouse? Why should they listen when you do talk?

If the manager is screaming at his players like a raving maniac, that’s showing some form of interest in them. But to say nothing? To disregard the common courtesy and credibility enhancing act of telling a veteran like Fuentes—to his face—that he’s been demoted and then call down to the bullpen for him to warm up in the seventh inning of a game?

It’s unconscionable.

Geren had talent to work with in 2011, was expected to win, and was in the final year of his contract it’s no surprise that he was sacrificed as the team is spiraling like a headless goose; but for Beane to imply that results aren’t part of his job description is deranged.

This “genius” is based on what? A book? A movie?

It’s as if he’s openly scoffing at that which is supposed to be the basis of his team-building philosophy—results over aesthetic; like he’s saying, “Don’t blame me! I’m a genius; I’m still smarter than you!”

Five straight seasons of—at best—mediocrity don’t have a bearing on this crafted image of infallibility.

It it seems like I’m writing the same things over and over again, it’s probably because I am.

For how long is Beane going to be absolved for his capricious maneuverings and self-justifying circular corporate terminology and having a reason for doing what he does as a protective cloak if they don’t work?

Unlike Joe Morgan, I’m aware that Beane had nothing to do with the way Moneyball was presented. I don’t blame Beane for using that portrayal to his advantage. He’s made a lot of money and now has a piece of a major league baseball team—something that would never have happened without that book.

In the end, he’s a stereotypical GM without the filter; absent of fear for his job.

The Athletics should be a contending team this season. It hasn’t worked. None of the acquisitions they made to bolster the lineup—Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham—have performed up to expectations; Daric Barton hasn’t followed up on his excellent 2010 season; injuries have decimated an impressive young pitching staff and the bullpen has been spotty.

The American League is quite muddled and laden with parity, so it’s not out of the question that the team can get hot and crawl back into contention, but it won’t be due to a managerial change and it won’t be a validation of “genius”.

These are independent issues.

If Beane were just another GM, what would be said right now?

Would an even-handed look at his callous dismissal of the work of his managers Art Howe and Ken Macha be accepted so readily? Would faulty trades and signings—Esteban Loaiza; Matt Holliday; Jason Giambi (his second go round); Orlando Cabrera; Tim Hudson—be seen as part of the “process” and chalked up to the paucity of money in the Athletics coffers?

You can’t get credit without receiving blame.

It doesn’t work that way.

All Macha did was win, but Beane fired him because of a “lack of communication” after a season in which the A’s came within four wins of going to the World Series. How was Geren around for five years since a large chunk of his players say he never spoke to them?

My hunch is that Macha didn’t kowtow to Billy Beane; didn’t worship at his altar because he saw through the facade and didn’t put forth the pretense of hiding his disdain. That’s not the way to last with a dictator.

It’s the media’s fault? He’s still clinging to the concept that the manager is meaningless?

In certain cases, yes, the manager is meaningless; but with a young team that’s had zero success since 2006 and a make-or-break circumstance, the manager matters. A lot.

Geren was costing them games with his mistakes.

And what does it say to the new manager Melvin that Beane clearly thinks so little of the manager’s job that he doesn’t believe it makes a difference whom the manager is?

I’m hoping to read the full context of Beane’s remarks in the press conference, but can’t find it anywhere on the web; apparently there were technical difficulties (part of a diabolical, James Bond Villain-style scheme on the part of Beane?). All I’ve been able to piece together are rampant displays of disturbingly overwhelming arrogance in which Beane’s “shifting the focus” means he’s blaming everyone but himself.

Maybe there’s an explanation for Beane’s obnoxious skill at maintaining this absurd perception of “genius” based on a fairy tale. Perhaps Michael Lewis’s shelved “sequel” to Moneyball would take advantage of the popularity of vampires and Beane—with his clear inability to see his own visage in a reflective surface—could be The Vampire GM.

You don’t have to worry about the Moneyball sequel though. I got it covered. And it won’t be punctuating the story. It’ll blow the thing to smithereens.

It’s what I do.

Years ago, there was a professional wrestler named Rick Martel who took on the bad guy personality of a pure narcissist who told anyone and everyone he was a model and promoted a cologne called Arrogance.

Let’s revive Arrogance.

Professional wrestling fits neatly with Beane’s famous chair throwing incident at the scouting department’s drafting of Jeremy Bonderman before Beane consolidated his power over the whole team.

Tantrums, bluster, bullying, self-justification—this is not what I want in my totem.

I want confidence and competence.

Is that what the Athletics have in Beane?

Let’s abandon Moneyball and the Billy Beane “genius” and let him push something more applicable.

The sweet smell of Arrogance isn’t so sweet when tearing away the layers and examining the truth.

Beane no longer passes the smell test unless said smell is a whiff of failure.

//

Early Season Oohs And Ahs

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide

Let’s have a look at some of the early seasons positives and whether or not they’re real or a mirage.

The rampaging Indians:

Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin are a combined 7-0; the bullpen has been brilliant; Travis Hafner is healthy and killing the ball; Asdrubal Cabrera has 4 homers(!); and Grady Sizemore is looking like his old self returning from microfracture surgery.

All of these occurrences won’t continue.

Hafner’s inevitable health problems and the tricky nature of microfracture surgery for Sizemore will be counteracted—to a point—when Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana start to hit; but the Indians are still playing journeymen Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan regularly; and Asdrubal Cabrera cannot keep up his hot start.

The pitching is the question. Masterson will return to earth; the bullpen won’t be as good as it has been; and they’ve beaten up on struggling/mediocre/poor teams.

A brigade of “Indians are contenders again” believers will gather steam, but they’re not contenders. At best they could hover around .500 all season and fade out towards the end. But that’s it.

Weaver and Haren is plenty good:

And Ervin Santana is underrated as well.

Who could possibly have thought that the Angels—with their top three starting pitchers and history of success—were going to recede into the Pacific Ocean and leave the AL West for the Rangers and still-overrated Athletics without a peep?

Jered Weaver is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is looking to get paid in the not-so-distant future (free agent after 2012; Scott Boras is his agent—do the math).

Dan Haren has been brilliant as well. Those who looked at the Angels off-season and scoffed because their acquisitions were limited to Vernon Wells (who’s going to hit), Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs, conveniently forgot that the Angels traded for Haren at mid-season 2010.

Joel Pineiro will be back soon and rookie Tyler Chatwood has been solid. Manager Mike Scioscia didn’t hesitate to make Jordan Walden the closer and Fernando Rodney is more comfortable as a set-up man.

Is anyone still laughing at the Angels? And will they admit how stupid they were (and still are) now?

I doubt it. I’ll be more than happy to point it out though. With enthusiasm.

Burying Josh Beckett and the Red Sox:

More partisan silliness.

Beckett was hurt last year. Now he’s not hurt. And he’s pitching brilliantly.

It was idiotic to think that a 31-year-old post-season hero with Beckett’s career history was “done” because of maladies that had nothing to do with his arm.

After their hideous start, the Red Sox have righted the ship and will be a run-scoring machine when Carl Crawford starts to hit. And he will start to hit.

On another note, it’s only a matter of time before Mike Cameron is playing center field regularly. The frustration with Jacoby Ellsbury is legitimate; I was never a fan and his power display is a mirage. He’s done nothing at the plate aside from his 4 homers; is mediocre defensively in center field; and the other players don’t seem to like him.

John Lackey will also have to be dealt with. Even though he pitched well against the anemic offense of the Oakland Athletics, his behavior and body language were both troubling. Nobody’s saying that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is Johnny Bench in terms of handling pitchers, but the open animosity between pitcher and catcher can’t go on. Lackey isn’t endearing himself to his teammates with his miserable attitude and it has to be handled from the inside. If that means Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis have to corner and threaten him physically, so be it.

Later on today, I’ll post about the negatives so far in early 2011.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. Many of my predictions have proven accurate already; the ones that haven’t will be. Most of them anyway.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Fast And Loose

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Ken Rosenthal writes about the Oakland Athletics and their manager Bob Geren in this column on Foxsports.com.

Within the piece it’s implied that Geren—for the first time in his tenure—could be replaced if the team doesn’t perform up to expectations; that because the Athletics have some talent to work with, Geren is responsible for the results.

This is another example of the “Billy Beane” character moving to the forefront and taking precedence over reality. Beane the GM has played fast and loose with his supposed belief systems when it’s been advantageous for him to do so.

Rosenthal casually mentions the 2009 season when the Athletics made a series of bold maneuvers to try and vault into contention. They traded for Matt Holliday; signed Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to contracts to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday got off to a slow start and seemed unhappy in the American League amid the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum; Giambi looked finished and was released; and Cabrera got off to an atrocious start before being traded to the Twins.

The team finished at 75-87.

Beane didn’t fire Geren.

I’m not suggesting he should’ve fired Geren on his own merits; I don’t hold the manager responsible for the Athletics poor showings in the won/lost column with Geren as the manager; but if Beane is so desperately determined to stick to his public portrayal of a ruthless corporate assassin, then Geren had to go.

Rosenthal points out the Moneyball model in which Beane runs the club from the front office; told Art Howe where and how to stand in the dugout; dismissed Ken Macha for daring to lose in the ALCS; and that the final tally of A’s success or failure lands at the desk of the GM.

But if Beane were consistent in his dealings—or at least honest—he’d have said that Geren is still the manager, in part, because the two are close friends. Beane fired Macha for literally no reason other than the oft-proffered and unquantifiable old standby, “lack of communication”.

I’d like to have a manager with a lack of communication achieve a record of 368-280 in his tenure.

I wondered at the time if Beane would’ve used his “objectivity” to fire Macha had the manager won four more games in 2006 and gotten to the World Series; or eight more and won a championship. The absence of communication was such a problem that it shouldn’t have mattered and he should’ve been canned regardless, right?

I’m no fan of Macha as a manager, but the firing and self-serving justifications were ridiculous.

I’m not begrudging Beane’s right to fire his managers—I’m fully on-board with making a managerial change sooner rather than later and don’t believe a GM or owner has to give a reason other than, “I felt like it.”

But that doesn’t fit the Beane caricature. Everything Beane does is supposed to be steeped in reasoning, objective analysis, logic and the bottom line.

Of course it’s nonsense.

If that were the case, would Geren—who I happen to think is a competent manager—still be in the A’s dugout?

No.

Geren could very well be in trouble if the A’s underachieve again and it won’t be because of anything he does wrong, but because Beane himself will be under fire from a disgusted fan base, impatient owner and skeptical public tired of the moniker of “genius” that has yet to bear fruit anywhere aside from print and, soon, a movie theater near you.

When he’s cornered, Beane won’t take the blame.

He’ll use his “best friend” as a human shield and fling him to the flocking and angry crowd by means of sacrifice, thereby saving himself and his unjustified reputation—with a segment of the believers anyway.

He can fire whomever he wants, whyever he wants; but to make it anything more than an act of self-preservation for a desperate executive trying to cling to the last vestiges of an increasingly tarnished and questionable reputation and storyline of success is the height of hypocrisy and fits right into the fable of Billy Beane.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Sith Lord Saturday 2.26.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

You’ve heard of Sunday Lightning, well then welcome to Sith Lord Saturday—to be utilized when there’s a load of stuff to address on a Saturday.

  • The Mets, Madoff, MLB and money:

The Mets are starting to look like something out of The Producers.

Is it possible that the annual screw-ups are a matter of design? That the way the club is spiraling into the depths—first on the field and now off—is part of some grand scheme hatched by an amoral puppeteer?

No. It’s not me.

I say it’s probably not a plot. They mean well but aren’t that clever.

The latest in the Mets-Bernie Madoff saga is that the club received what amounts to being a “bridge loan” for liquidity in November; the loan, $25 million, was provided by MLB itself and was not revealed until yesterday—NY Times Story.

This story is ever-evolving and doesn’t have a clear end in sight in time or result. I’m not convinced that the Wilpons won’t be able to wriggle their way out of it; much depends, of course, on how long the lawsuit drags and whether or not it can be settled; the easy answer—that I too have been saying—is that they’ll have no choice but to sell the team.

Just yesterday I suggested that the reluctance to sell now is due, in part, to not wanting to have the profit that would accompany such a full blown sale left sitting there for the plaintiffs to take immediately.

But the more I think about it, the less appropriate is for a still-developing story to be analyzed on the fly.

People have criticized Mike Francesa for his attempts to clarify the saga by speaking to experts and taking calls from people with knowledge of the law, stocks and banking. After the first few days of the usual Francesa self-proclaimed expertise, he showed deference and admitted that he doesn’t know much about this as he tried to sift through the information he was getting.

That’s the point.

We only have bits and pieces of information and there are very few people with the breadth of knowledge and experience to interpret what’s happening to come to a reasonable and well-thought-out conclusion.

It’s all chatter now. Small, isolated jagged shards of information that, left alone, don’t tell the whole tale. But that’s all we’re getting.

It’s irresponsible for people to be predicting a sale; a bankruptcy; or vindication when few know or comprehend the scope of the situation.

We won’t know until we know. It has to play itself out completely.

  • In Brown we do not trust:

I’m not sure why the Phillies didn’t take a chance on Manny Ramirez.

They clearly don’t trust Domonic Brown as their everyday right fielder and are looking for a competent, “just-in-case” veteran who can play right. They looked into Jeff Francoeur before he signed with the Royals; and have asked the Nationals about Mike Morse.

Morse would be a fine pickup for the Phillies—a Jayson Werth-type gamble of a player who’s never gotten a chance—if the Nats are dealing him.

I doubt they will. The Nats offense is weak and I sense that Werth will be playing a lot of center this season with Morse in right to boost the offense.

The Phillies have a tendency to make absolutely sure their in-house products are ready before letting them play full time in the big leagues. They did so with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and J.A. Happ—all three of whom could’ve been productive big leaguers before they got the chance.

In fairness to the Howard situation, his way was blocked by Jim Thome and they had nowhere to put him.

The others were held back until their mid-20s.

You can’t argue with the Phillies development apparatus, but Brown is the one player they refused to trade in the flurry of deals for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, et, al. They can’t give him a legitimate chance to play?

One could argue that the decision to hold said players back is financial; that they want to get full production from them in their prime years before having to pay them big money. You could blow the financial sanity argument away by looking at the lunatic contract they gave to Howard to preclude his free agency.

I can’t escape the fact that the Phillies are looking for a right field bat; that Manny signed for nothing with the Rays; Charlie Manuel was a father-figure to Manny; in the Phillies offense, he’d be an ancillary piece; and in the ballpark, he’d hit his homers.

They put up with Werth’s attitude, could Manny have been much worse?

  • Slow and steady editing; thinking before hitting publish:

Some people shouldn’t indulge in stream-of-consciousness reactions before commenting.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is one such person.

He appears to have deleted the tweets, but I know he said them because I saw them and commented on them as they happened. It’s not a big deal, but Heyman said something to the tune of the Indians were making nice under-the-radar signings to improve.

Chad Durbin and Orlando Cabrera might be nice signings for a team like the Yankees as veterans to bolster to the current roster, but the Indians?

At risk of betraying the mysteryyyy of my upcoming book, the signings of Durbin and Cabrera are likely to spur the Indians from a record of 67-95 to a record of….67-95.

The Indians could be slightly better than that if a vast array of “ifs” come to pass.

If Travis Hafner stays healthy…

If Grady Sizemore recovers from micro-fracture surgery…

If Carlos Santana develops into the Victor Martinez-type hitter he’s shown minor league evidence of being…

If Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson show anything as starters behind Fausto Carmona

If Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta hit…

If, if, if…

These tweets were following the criticism of Luis Castillo for not showing up to Mets camp early; then Heyman made snide comments about being “sick” of Castillo and that the club should release him and sign David Eckstein.

Thanks for the input and idiocy after: A) Castillo wasn’t required to arrive early; and B) the player’s brother was having surgery.

There are clever analytical responses that are inherent to credibility—this is required for an outlet like Twitter.

Heyman’s missing it.

There’s being witty without being mean.

He’s missing that too.

Not only is he weak (he blocked me on said apparatus known as Twitter—literally for nothing other than pointing out that he’s got no sense of humor); and he’s somewhat vicious in a wimpy, passive-aggressive sort of way.

It’s not a positive trait to have especially if he can dish it out and not take it.