No Managerial Replacements Means No Managerial Changes

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If there was an obvious choice replacement manager or two (or three) sitting on the sidelines it’s very possible that both the Angels and Dodgers would have made changes by now. Instead Angels manager Mike Scioscia has received multiple votes of confidence and the speculation surrounding his job status has been qualified with the “it’s not his fault” lament. For the Dodgers, the club has been ravaged by injuries, none of which are the fault of manager Don Mattingly. For both teams, if they turn their seasons around, it will be the steady veteran experience and failure to panic on the part of Scioscia that will be referenced as a reason; with Mattingly, it will be his experience of seeing so many managers on the hotseat in his time as a Yankees player and coach as well as his unending positive enthusiasm (almost bordering on delusion) that the Dodgers will steer out of the spiral. The Angels’ situation is far worse than that of the Dodgers. They’re 11 games out of first place and have shown no signs of life apart from the brief boost they got from Astros manager Bo Porter’s strategic gaffe a week ago that lit a short-term fire under them. Since the three game win streak, they’ve settled back into the dysfunctional mess they’ve been all season. The Dodgers are only 5 1/2 games out of first place so there’s a logic to say that once they get their players back and GM Ned Colletti follows through on his usual burst of mid-season trade activity, they’ll be right in the thick of the race.

We’ve seen from history how worthless votes of confidence, logical explanations as to why it’s not the manager that’s the problem, and positive vibes in the face of adversity are—if teams are under enough pressure and their seasons are on the brink, they’ll withstand the fire for “lying” and make a change. But who would be the replacements for managers like Scioscia and Mattingly?

Because the “deans” of managers—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella—are all 69 and older and have shown no interest in managing again, who is there to replace a manager on the hotseat to ignite the fanbase and tell the players that something different is going to be done? Torre and Cox are through with managing. LaRussa might be able to be convinced to come back but it won’t be this year for the Angels where, if he succeeded, he might hinder his close friend Jim Leyland’s last chance at a title with the Tigers; he likes to be compensated lucratively and the one thing the Dodgers have to offer along with spending on players is a lot of money—they’d pay him and Dave Duncan handsomely to come and Mark McGwire is already there. Piniella has also said he’s not interested in managing anymore, but he also likes to be paid, was in line for the Dodgers job once before and might be dragged out of retirement.

These are maybes contingent on the whims of the men who no longer need the job or the aggravation. Who is there that could replace any manager who’s on the outs with his current club and who would definitely jump at the job offer? If the Angels wanted to go with the polar opposite of Scioscia (as is the strategy teams like to use when firing their manager) they could hire Ozzie Guillen and wouldn’t have to pay him all that much because the Marlins are still paying him for two-and-a-half more seasons, but that would not be reacted to well by the players. Perhaps that’s what the underachieving bunch needs, but Guillen, LaRussa, Piniella or anyone else isn’t going to fix the Angels biggest problem: pitching. Scioscia’s been there too long, it’s no longer his type of team, a change needs to be made whether they admit it or not, but a change really won’t help in the short term.

If Terry Francona had chosen to sit out another year, he would be mentioned with every job that could potentially be opening, but he took the Indians job. Bobby Valentine can pretty much forget it after the 2012 disaster with the Red Sox. Combining the competent and functional retreads like Jim Tracy, Phil Garner, Larry Bowa and Don Baylor who would love to have a job and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference and the lack of a guy next to the managers on the bench who are viable replacements, it’s easier for the Angels, Dodgers and other teams who might consider a managerial change to just leave it as is and hope it gets better until something has to be done. And by the time something has to be done for cosmetic purposes more than anything else, the season will be too far gone for the new manager to turn around club fortunes. At that point, they can stick whomever they want in the manager’s office and see what happens with zero chance of it helping the team for the rest of this season one way or the other, then decide what to do for 2014.

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Bashing and Smashing the Real Underachievers—American League

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Yesterday I asked why the Mets were being hammered for playing pretty much the way anyone and everyone should’ve expected them to play. Today let’s have a look at some teams that were—according to the “experts,” payrolls and talent levels—were supposed to be performing better and why they aren’t.

Toronto Blue Jays

It’s becoming apparent that the Blue Jays are not a team off to a bad start. They might just be plain bad. In addition to that, one of the main culprits in their mediocrity/badness over the past two seasons—former manager John Farrell—has the Red Sox in first place with the best record in baseball. I don’t think he’s a good game manager, but the reality doesn’t lie. The Red Sox will fall to earth at some point, but will the Blue Jays rise?

They may not be making the same baserunning gaffes they did under Farrell, but they’re third in the American League in homers and twelfth in runs scored. They’re last in batting average, next-to-last in on-base percentage, and thirteenth in ERA. The bullpen has been solid, but if a team doesn’t hit and doesn’t get any starting pitching their roster is irrelevant whether it has Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Jose Bautista or whatever refuse the Mets are shuttling in and out of their outfield.

There’s too much talent with too long a history for this type of underperformance to continue for the whole season, but if it does it may be time to stop looking at the players, coaches and manager and turn the blame to the front office.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

What I find funny is that one of the main arguments for Mike Trout’s 2012 MVP candidacy apart from his higher WAR over Miguel Cabrera was that the Angels took off after he was recalled. Without him to start the season they were 6-14; with him in the lineup after his recall they were 81-58. Trout’s been there from the beginning of the 2013 season and the Angels are 10-17, looking haphazard, disconnected and awful. The only “war” being mentioned is the undeclared, but known, “war” between the front office and the manager.

They’re not a cohesive unit and when you have a bunch of mercenaries, some of those mercenaries had better be able to pitch.

Yesterday’s win over the Athletics was indicative of one of the Angels’ biggest problems: veteran apathy. In the eighth inning, an important insurance run would’ve scored had Mark Trumbo touched the plate before Josh Hamilton was thrown out at third base to end the inning. Mike Scioscia’s teams were known for the inside game, pitching, defense, speed and going all out. Those small fundamental mistakes didn’t cost them games because they didn’t happen. Now they do. And they’re 10-17 and going nowhere in large part because of that. They got away with it yesterday, but just barely. It certainly doesn’t help that their pitching is woeful, but their issues stem from more than just bad pitching.

Why don’t the Angels just put the man out of his misery? He’s been there for 14 years, it’s no longer his team, his sway in the organization is all but gone and the players aren’t responding to him. It’s like delaying the decision to put down a beloved pet. Another week isn’t going to make a difference other than to make things worse. Sometimes making a change for its own sake is good.

Tony LaRussa’s says he’s not interested in managing. He might be interested but for one thing: his relationship with Jim Leyland is such that he won’t want to compete with his friend in the same league and possibly ruin Leyland’s last shot at a title so LaRussa could stroke his own ego, make another big payday, derive some joy over abusing Jeff Luhnow and the Astros and being the center of attention again. It’s Ivory Soap Pure (99 44/100%) that you can forget LaRussa.

Phil Garner took over an Astros team that was floundering in 2004 and brought them to the playoffs; the next season, they were 15 games under .500 in late May of 2005 and rebounded to make the World Series. Even Bob Brenly, who was a figurehead as Diamondbacks manager and whose main attribute was that he wasn’t Buck Showalter and didn’t tell the players how to wear their socks, would restore a calming, “it’s different” atmosphere.

Someone, somewhere would yield a better result that Scioscia is now. It’s known and not accepted yet. Maybe after a few more losses, it will be accepted that it’s enough so they can move on.

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Billy Beane Is Not Ready For His Closeup

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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.

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