Rays and Orioles: Early Season Notes

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Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were one of the few teams with a “surplus” of starting pitching. So they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals and signed Roberto Hernandez (AKA Fausto Carmona) as insurance and to vie for a role in the rotation. Jeff Niemann’s season-ending shoulder surgery put a damper on the depth and they’ve gotten off to a rocky start as Hernandez has pitched poorly and Jeremy Hellickson—who I’m not a fan of anyway—has been inconsistent.

Key parts of the lineup haven’t hit. Some, like Yunel Escobar and Matthew Joyce, will. Others like James Loney and Ryan Roberts might or might not. In the end, they’ll score enough runs to win…if the pitching is good enough or David Price and Matt Moore carry the load for the shakiness of the back of the rotation.

This should’ve been expected of a team like the Rays who run their club making trades and signings with an eye on saving money, spending where they can, and hoping to hit at the roulette wheel with the likes of Hernandez and Loney. Amid all the hits such as Fernando Rodney and Casey Kotchman, there are also misses like Pat Burrell and Matt Bush. Some have been costlier than others.

There are calls to bring up Wil Myers to boost the offense and, in some manner, justify having traded Shields and Davis to get him. Inside the Rays clubhouse there are expressions of pained understanding as to why the Rays traded Shields and Davis, with the unsaid wishing that they were still there to help in the now.

The Rays front office isn’t concerned about what the players think. No winning organization is. They may listen to a point in order to placate the stars, but in the end, it’s the organization’s decision. Few sports figures exert as much influence over their club as Tom Brady does with the New England Patriots and even he had his knuckles rapped by club owner Bob Kraft over Brady’s overt displeasure at Wes Welker being allowed to leave. “I don’t answer to Tom Brady,” Kraft said.

Nor should he.

Bending to pressure, inside and out, would betray the entire reason the Rays made the trade in the first place; in fact it would contradict the entire foundation of the rebuilding of the Rays into a team that wins in spite of payroll constraints. Myers was acquired because he’s a top-tier prospect, cheap and will have value for them when they can no longer afford some of the players in their lineup who are expected to be significant offensive contributors now, like Joyce. If and when Myers is recalled, it won’t be until it’s financially and practically beneficial to the Rays, not before.

In general, veteran players will provide what’s expected of them and what they’ve historically done barring injuries or an age-related decline in skills. This is why there’s no need to be concerned about Escobar and Joyce and there is need to be concerned about Hernandez and Loney.

This is the situation the Rays face on an annual basis. Maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.

Baltimore Orioles

To GM Dan Duquette’s credit, he didn’t make the mistake the Mariners did under Bill Bavasi and equate an overachieving 2007 season of 88-74 into an idea of “all we need is one more pitcher” and trade a large chunk of his system to the Orioles—including Adam Jones and Chris Tillman—for Erik Bedard.

(Interestingly, Mariners current GM Jack Zduriencik did pretty much the same thing in trading for Cliff Lee after a similarly overachieving season that was based more on luck than reality in 2009. Yet he was referred to as a “genius” for doing what Bavasi did. He’s not being called a genius anymore, but that’s another story.)

The Orioles of 2012, unlike the Mariners of 2007, made the playoffs. They bounced the Rangers and shook the Yankees before losing in the ALDS in 5 games. The Orioles, having won, are no longer viewed as a last resort location for old and declining players to get a last paycheck. The temptation to use the new street cred among marketable players willing to join the Orioles must have been great, as must have been the offers for the likes of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Duquette did a tweak here and a tweak there, but mostly stood pat in spite of the Orioles having reason to say they were going for it in 2013, even though that would’ve been a mistake.

They’re around .500 now and the “experts” in the media had them taking a dramatic fallback to, at best, .500 for the season.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Currently relying on the same template as last season with a deep bullpen, a power-hitting lineup and pedestrian starting pitching, the situation looks the same as in 2012, but is actually subtly different.

If his elbow stiffness subsides and he’s pitching in the minors soon, the Orioles can expect Bundy to help them in the second half of the season; Machado will be with the team all year. If they’re hovering around .500 and still in contention in a parity-laden AL East at mid-season, they’ll be very dangerous down the stretch.

I don’t see people referring to Duquette with starstruck, agenda-driven awe as they did with Zduriencik, but Duquette’s the one with the past success, courage of his convictions, and is a better executive.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Billy Martin, Twitter and the Pat Burrell-Jon Heyman “Thing”

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Just imagine the famously pugilistic Billy Martin managing today with all the scrutiny and rapid fire information that winds up on the internet seconds after it happened. Also imagine what the reaction would be if a reporter made public a snarky comment that in years past would have been saved for a whisper to a colleague or for a laugh over beers in the hotel bar long after the game stories had been filed and where there was a reasonable level of plausible deniability to assert, “I didn’t say that,” before Martin was able to throw a punch. Martin probably would’ve thrown the punch anyway, but that’s beside the point.

If Martin were a manager today, he wouldn’t last long. With all the attention to his off-field activities, press conferences, questions asked regarding his strategies and criticisms around the world, people in suits telling him how to do his job, pitch counts, rules, regulations and everything else that’s a job hazard nowadays, he’d get fired quickly.

There are few characters like Martin left and if they are, they’re not managing. But the dynamic of baseball people getting angry enough to want to fight a reporter nearly came to pass last week when Giants’ scout and former player Pat Burrell tried to fight CBS reporter Jon Heyman in a bar. According to the linked story, Kevin Millar broke it up and the general consensus was that Heyman was lucky that the 6’4”, 235 pound Burrell didn’t get to him. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. Just because Heyman has a tendency to block people who say “boo” to him on Twitter and takes the tone of a nebbish doesn’t mean he’s an easy mark. It would’ve been far worse for Burrell had he gone after Heyman and gotten beaten up than if he’d satisfied whatever was eating at him to get angry enough to start something in the first place.

Would Martin have taken a poke at the late reporter Henry Hecht? The two despised each other to a remarkable degree. The diminutive Hecht presumably had no chance against Martin, but the revenge would’ve been the fallout and Martin’s inevitable firing.

In this era, we’re going to see more of these confrontations between a reporter and a baseball person. It’s not because of what was tweeted, but specifically because it was on social media and crossed the line from reporter or even columnist to a wise guy making a comment from the safety of his computer or phone that he would never say directly because it was: A) unprofessional; and B) dangerous because he’d get hit.

Heyman almost got hit.

Outlets like Twitter tend to be stream of consciousness and immediate, but when tweeting something that could be deemed offensive—funny or not—perhaps the circuit breaker of, “Would I say this if I might run into this person?” would be wisely adhered to, especially when there’s a genuine possibility that you will.

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“Because They Did It” Is Not A Viable Argument

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Baseball analysis has become a newest latest endeavor. Whatever is “working” is seen as the new strategy and this should be copied, in a circular fashion, because it “worked”.

Joel Sherman, whose obsession with the Mets is bordering on restraining order status, says in today’s NY Post column that the Mets should trade David Wright, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese. Sherman, in typical outsider “what I’d do” tone, says he’d make all three moves for prospects or lateral pieces.

What I’d do. It’s an oft-used phrase that denotes a nonexistent fearlessness that, in the trenches, would be real in a small percentage of those who say it.

You know what he and Keith Law and any of these other so-called media experts would do if they were in a position of authority to run a franchise? They’d get swallowed up and be ridiculed and dismissed from the position within a year, if that. It’s so simple and easy to run a franchise and take potshots when there’s no responsibility for the results. Running a club isn’t about being a wheeler-dealer and making trades, holding press conferences, and being interviewed on TV and radio. It’s a lot of drudgery. It’s answering to bosses like owners and team presidents.

The Red Sox are a case study for a display of how that goes for a baseball guy who climbed his way up through the bowels of a franchise as Ben Cherington did and found himself cleaning up a mess with an inveterate meddler in Larry Lucchino hovering over his shoulder at every turn. The Red Sox are a classic example of how quickly images can turn. If, in the winter of 2011, you went to any player, coach, manager, prospective manager, or front office candidate and asked them if they’d love to be a member of the Red Sox, to a person they’d say absolutely. Now with that the atmosphere so toxic and in rampant disarray, who wants to go there and deal with it? That happens to every franchise and it’s based on success, failure and the perceptions of everything in between.

The GM job is not about making earth-shattering trades and getting the players he wants on his path to world domination, lucrative speaking gigs, and best-selling books as to his managing style. The GM has to deal with season ticket holders. He has to sell. He has to provide a plan that lives in the parameters of what’s set by the people he answers to. Not one has full autonomy to do whatever he wants. He doesn’t own it, therefore he doesn’t have that option to do whatever he feels like doing.

In Sherman’s piece, there’s no actual alternative provided if the Mets trade Wright, Dickey and Niese. What are they getting back? How can they sell this to the fans who are still willing to shell out money to go to games? Will anyone go to games if Wright, Dickey, and Niese are gone for prospects that will someday be ready?

It’s a random suggestion that teams do what other teams have done like it’s a mathematical problem that would be solved by copying the formula. Years ago, it was the Moneyball theory; then it became old-school stats; then it became spending money; then it became the Rays’ way; then it became the “luck” argument.

Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson can’t trade Wright or Dickey and he knows it. Presumably, so does Sherman. But that doesn’t prevent this trash from still popping up as if it has credence.

Anyone can find any historical context to provide foundation for a plan that they’re not in power to enact. Because the Athletics traded away their veteran players for youngsters and it worked, that’s become the new basis to call Billy Beane a genius while ignoring that his supposed brilliance was a story of creative non-fiction that spun out of control. Where was the “genius” when the A’s were awful for half a decade in spite of several reboots and attempts to try different strategies, none of which worked? It just happens to be working this year. That doesn’t mean that if the Mets trade any of the above players, they’re going to yield similar results.

The Orioles are called lucky. Were the Rays lucky when they got 13 homers after acquiring journeyman Gabe Gross in 2008? Were they stupid when they gave—and wasted—$16 million on Pat Burrell? When they spent $8 million on Troy Percival?

The new managerial template has clubs hiring men who’ve never managed anywhere. Robin Ventura with the White Sox and Mike Matheny with the Cardinals have their teams contending and that has given validity to this idea. But it’s ignored that Ventura was a calm, cool presence who has clubhouse bona fides as a former All Star player and is the polar opposite of the tiresome act of the man he replaced, Ozzie Guillen. Matheny walked into a ready-made situation with a team that won the World Series the year before and had stars at key positions, with a good starting rotation, and powerful lineup. The “no experience necessary” sign when hiring a manager will last as long as it seems to be working. Once a team hires someone without experience and he presides over a disaster, it too will change.

Law contradicted himself in the middle of a self-indulgent rant against Ron Washington using Michael Young to play shortstop last night. First it was such a horrific mistake that the Rangers were playing Young at shortstop that he went on and on about it, then he tweeted that the Cardinals “big win” over the Nationals meant one game in the standings implying that it had no bearing on the past or future. Which is it?

I have no idea why Washington played Young at shortstop, but it wasn’t the reason the Rangers lost the game. It was used to go on a tangent that I’m willing to bet Law had planned and was waiting for an opportunity to use. Law indulges in these snark-filled, condescending tantrums on Twitter that appear designed to compensate for some inadequacy. It’s like he’s trying to prove something. Washington couldn’t go to the high-end schools that Law did and make it through; on the same token, Law couldn’t play in the big leagues, nor could he run a club on the field.

If you put Law in a position where he was running a club on the field, the players would ignore and mock him. The Rangers’ players play hard for Washington and, judging from the smuggled audiotape from before game 7 of the World Series last season, Washington’s ability to do “player speak” is far more important to that franchise than hiring someone who’s going to adhere to every statistical quirk and possibly lose the clubhouse—and games—in the process.

If Law tried to talk to players in this fashion, it would be similar to the suburban white kid writing gangsta rap framing them as his experiences that spurred the lyrics rather than mimicking what he’s heard from the outside. It’s not real.

Sherman and his ilk can go on and on about phantom stuff they’ve “heard” from “executives”; they can state with unequivocal certainty of what they’d do if they were in a position of power, but it’s as if Sherman put out a cover album of Public Enemy with the undertone that he’d lived that life.

It’s a farce. It’s a joke. And it’s self-evidently transparent if you’re willing to put your own biases to the side and look at it objectively, something Sherman, Law and the majority of the mainstream media are unable or unwilling to do.

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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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Hot Stove Bat To The Kneecap

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To the best of my recollection, the Mets have won several hot stove championships in recent years.

In the winter of 2001-2002, reeling from having been picked to make the playoffs and stumbling to mediocrity in 2001, GM Steve Phillips acted aggressively in acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz.

The brew he concocted was toxic; it neatly paralleled the deteriorating relationship and festering tensions between Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine; the result was a 75-86 record and Valentine’s firing after the season.

They also became the darlings of drastic off-season facelifts in the winter of 2004-2005—Omar Minaya’s first year—by signing the biggest pitching name, Pedro Martinez and the biggest outfield name, Carlos Beltran; and hiring Willie Randolph as the manager.

After briefly flirting with contention, they finished tied for 3rd place with an 83-79 record.

In 2007-2008, coming off a monstrous 2007 collapse, the acquired one of the top three pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana; but the injury to Billy Wagner in August left the club with a bullpen in shambles and they stumbled from the playoff race on the last day of the season.

These are not instances limited to the Mets.

The “hot stove champions” look unbeatable from November to March.

Then they start playing.

If headlines and media/fan approval were championships, the 2011 Phillies-Red Sox World Series would’ve been epic; the 2010 Mariners and their “Amazin’ Exec” GM Jack Zduriencik would be on the way to the Hall of Fame; the 2011 Athletics would’ve provided a fitting conclusion to the Moneyball fantasy as Billy Beane‘s genius coincided with his dramatically licensed and factually inaccurate portrayal in the movie.

The Red Sox collapsed; the Phillies were bounced in the playoffs; the 2010 Mariners lost 100 games and were a embarrassment on and a travesty off the field; and the Athletics are horrible as Beane uses his chameleon-like skills at fostering positive public perception to lay the atrocity off on the lack of a new stadium, others stealing “his” strategies and morphing into the likable and hapless everyman, swallowed up by factors out of his control.

Buy it if you want—if you’re a mindless sheep; if you’re stupid.

Because the Mets haven’t signed Jose Reyes to a new contract immediately upon his filing for free agency the consensus—which appears to be based on faux “sources” and the demands of editors to drum up attention and render web hits—is that Reyes is already out the door.

He might be.

He might not be.

Whether he’s a Met or not in 2012 doesn’t automatically mean the Mets are going to be any better than they’d be without him; nor does it mean the team that signs him will have a stamped ticket to the playoffs.

In spite of what the likes of Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch write, the Mets winning another hot stove title or treading water and perhaps badly hindering the club’s retooling efforts will not repair the issues surrounding the team for 2012.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the more important time for a team’s success or failure is the summer.

Drafting players that will eventually be tradable; gauging the market and the competition; going for a deep strike or holding fire—making intelligent analysis based on circumstances rather than maneuvering for positive coverage and validation of media imbeciles and reactionary fans—are far more important to winning than anything that’s done in the winter.

The 2010 Phillies were staggering at mid-summer, barely over .500 and entertaining offers for Jayson Werth; relentlessly and rightfully hammered for trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners in exchange for Roy Halladay and gazing into the abyss of a lost season, they fixed the hole they themselves created in the rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt; and they were lucky that Shane Victorino got injured and they had no one else to play center field, so they had to keep Werth.

Those Phillies went on a tear to win the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The same Giants who picked up Cody Ross on waivers and signed Pat Burrell after he’d been released. Both players were key components to the Giants championship.

Slightly over three months ago, the Cardinals desperately traded away their one young star-talent, Colby Rasmus, to acquire Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel—without whom they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the World Series.

It’s all hindsight.

If Reyes signs a $150 million contract and pulls his hamstring in May, will the critics be savaging the Mets for letting him leave?

Money aside, does anyone truly believe that GM Sandy Alderson and his staff don’t have a viable backup plan in the event Reyes departs?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be sexy to be sensible.

Continue reading the blatant partisanship from Sherman among others if you want to have a basis for complaint.

But don’t misunderstand what you’re reading as you indulge in the hackery and do not say you weren’t warned.

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Phillies Sign Jack Cust—Not Sexy But Maybe Important

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Sometimes it’s the understated and ignored acquisition or signing that turns out to be most important.

Eyes rolled at the Giants signing Pat Burrell and claiming Cody Ross last season, but without Burrell and Ross there likely wouldn’t have been a Giants World Series win.

In 1985, the Cardinals made a late-August trade for the stretch run when they acquired Cesar Cedeno for a nondescript minor leaguer named Mark Jackson who never made it to the majors. Cedeno was an unproductive part-timer in the twilight of his career with the Reds before getting to the Cardinals—upon which he went on a tear.

Over that final month in 1985, Cedeno batted .434 in 82 plate appearances with an absurd 1.213 OPS and 6 homers—some of which were game-winners. (I was at the September game in which Dwight Gooden and John Tudor hooked up for a scoreless tie through 9 innings; Cedeno pinch hit in the top of the 10th against Jesse Orosco and homered. Tudor finished the shutout in the bottom of the inning.)

Without Cedeno, the Cardinals would probably not have held the Mets off that September.

In what were essentially “nothing” moves, the Cardinals and Giants made it to the World Series.

It’s not sexy, but the Phillies signing of Jack Cust to a minor league deal could eventually be seen as big.

Cust was a washout with the Mariners this year, but that team is currently a lost cause; he was jerked around by the Athletics after rejuvenating his career with the organization, but the A’s are a farce of their very own with an upcoming feature film to prove it.

The difference with the Phillies is that he’s only going to be asked to do what he does in a limited role rather than as the lone power threat for two desperately short-handed clubs.

What Cust does is hit the ball out of the park; strike out; or walk.

The Phillies home of Citizens Bank Park will be more enticing to him than the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum and Safeco Field, and he can hit a fastball. He murders the Giants’ Matt Cain and can catch up to Brian Wilson‘s fastball or walk if Wilson loses the strike zone.

Much like Matt Stairs‘s towering homer against a 100-mph fastball from Jonathan Broxton spun the 2009 NLCS into the Phillies favor and sent Broxton into a confidence-sapped tailspin from which he’s yet to recover, Cust could perform a similar function of a lefty bat off the bench against the Giants, Braves, Brewers or Cardinals—all potential playoff opponents for the Phillies.

Occasionally, all it takes is the smell of a pennant race to wake up a veteran’s bat. These inexpensive acquisitions wind up being turning points in a championship season without anyone realizing it at the time they were completed and it could be so with the Phillies signing of Cust.

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Theories

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Research is important.

And today, it’s easy.

With that in mind, I have to wonder why writers insist on twisting facts to bolster their arguments when the “facts” which underpin their assertions are so rapidly ascertainable.

The latest is in today’s NY Times: In Search for an Ace? It’s Best to Invest Early.

In this piece, Tyler Kepner attempts to “explain” how to successfully build a pitching staff through the draft. Of course there are the customary shots at the Pirates for repeatedly bypassing on pitchers they should’ve drafted and then watched the failures of the ones they did.

In the piece, there are the facts without context; quotes from executives; and blame doled out on those who were supposedly responsible for the missteps.

Everyone has a theory.

In Moneyball, there was the results-oriented and college player postulation that a team with limited resources should find signable, near-mature talent to use in the big leagues as quickly as possible.

With the Giants championship spurred by homegrown talent, naturally the focus is on developing young players—especially pitchers; the concept has evolved to drafting highly and selecting the best available arms.

Jennie Finch and her husband Casey Daigle now have a son called “Ace”; the implication is that because of those tremendous genetics to be tall and to pitch, there’s going to be a top draft pick on the horizon 17-20 years from now.

Then there’s the “new” way in which the same Pirates—mentioned earlier—are spending heavily on international prospects and investing in the draft by going over advised MLB slot prices.

Which is it?

Is it the last thing that worked?

Or is it a strategy that must be adhered to if the individual teams want to be considered intelligent and have books written about them?

Former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield is defended by his now-boss, Jim Hendry with the Cubs; it’s said that because of the interference of the Pirates ownership in what Littlefield wanted to do, he couldn’t win. Littlefield made some good trades like the one in which he acquired Jason Bay; and some terrible ones where he got nothing for Aramis Ramirez. The team was consistently awful under his stewardship and he quickly proved that there are certain executives who are not suited to being the architect of the organization—they’re better as assistants.

A lack of money doesn’t account for that; nor does it excuse the draft mistakes and the suggestion that the Pirates bypassed CC Sabathia for financial reasons and misunderstood his potential. But the entire foundation of the Sabathia gaffe is faulty because Kepner leaves out the other players who were drafted ahead of the big lefty.

The Pirates drafted Clint Johnston—a lefty who never made it as a pitcher despite big strikeout numbers; he didn’t make it as a hitter either after making the switch to first base and the outfield.

As for the other players who were missed by teams not named the Pirates, there were 19 players picked in front of Sabathia—link. Some of whom—Mark Mulder, Pat Burrell, J.D. Drew, Brad Lidge—made it; others who didn’t. Does that mean the Pirates should be singled out as “stupid”? Only if the other clubs are stupid as well.

How quickly did the Moneyball nonsense come apart as the 2002-2003 drafts which were supposedly orchestrated by the “genius” Billy Beane yielded some useful players like Nick Swisher, but placed an untenable amount of pressure on Jeremy Brown to live up to the role he played in the book; I’m convinced that had he not been such a central character, Brown could very well have been a useful bat in someone’s lineup; everyone knew his name for all the wrong reasons and he was done at 27.

This was exacerbated by Beane’s abandonment of the principles Michael Lewis’s story (not account, story) laid out as in subsequent years, Beane took the step of drafting the dreaded…high….school….pitcher!

It worked too with Trevor Cahill.

The Giants drafted highly—as Brewers GM Doug Melvin says in the article—because they were bad for a few years; but the Giants were smart (or gutsy; or desperate) enough to look past Tim Lincecum‘s size, unusual training regimen and stage father to draft him and leave him alone. How many other organizations would’ve accepted the terms set forth by his dad?

The genetics theory? It’s not irrelevant to think that a young player who comes from good athletic stock can mimic the skills of his parents, but you can pick and choose with that as well. Where’s Nolan Ryan‘s son Reid now?

The Pirates are spending money and expanding their international outreach, but it’s only going to bear fruit if they find players with the money they’re spending. Whether or not they’re acquiring talent is the key, not how much they pay for it. Considering the atrocious way in which the Pirates are being run by the current front office at the major league level, why would they know what they’re doing in scouting young players—money aside—and not have a clue how to make intelligent trades or understand that it was a terrible idea to non-tender Matt Capps?

We can go up and down the draft boards and find players that were overlooked for one reason or another, but what’s the point?

Mining for talent isn’t a science; it’s not a matter of spending money; nor is it a broad-based set of rules that must be adhered to for fear of being called a fool. It’s about knowing what you’re doing; being lucky; having the courage to do as the Giants did with Lincecum and leave him alone; teaching; and giving young players an opportunity.

The Giants succeeded because they had all those factors going for them. Not because of the high draft choices alone.

I’ll be a guest on two podcasts tomorrow. In the afternoon, I’ll be on with Sal at SportsFanBuzz; in the evening with Mike on NYBaseballDigest.

Don’t be scaaaaared.

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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