Yaisel Puig and the All-Star Game

All Star Game, Games, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.

Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?

Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.

There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.

There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.

If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.

With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?

This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?

Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.

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Schilling’s Financial Mess Has Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Politics

In today’s Sunday Business section of the New York Times, Matt Bai writes a great article about Curt Schilling and his failed video game company. What is made clear in the piece is how blinded those who were involved in this failed entrepreneurship/business partnership were to the obvious realities behind it.

The issues that surrounded Schilling throughout his career have extended to his post-career endeavors. The main difference is, back then, it didn’t really affect anyone other than himself and it didn’t harm his teams all that much. He was a great pitcher and if he pitched, the other stuff was shrugged away.

Schilling played for five teams in his career and took a long time to establish himself. In every stop, there was eye-rolling at head-shaking at Schilling the person and his overt theatrics even as he accumulated respect for his abilities, post-season success and willingness to pitch through pain. When he played with the Diamondbacks, there was an uncomfortableness bordering on hate between Schilling and his fellow ace and Cy Young Award contender Randy Johnson. With most teams, it would be construed as jealousy, but with Schilling it wasn’t a unique phenomenon. It was obvious why Schilling would clash with Johnson when Johnson never hid who he really was: a curmudgeonly star who would be happiest if the media never came near him. Schilling, on the other hand, was almost chameleon-like in his personality.

This was a hallmark for his career.

The teammates who considered themselves “real people” like Mitch Williams, thought Schilling was a phony and relentless self-promoter doing things to garner attention. There was a “Will this be cool?” aspect to Schilling that’s indicative of a lack of definition in who he was and what he believed. Like a teenager whose brain hasn’t fully grown and is fighting through puberty, Schilling’s personality was flexible and he never appeared to have evolved into a complete person on its own merit. There’s a constant concern about perception and eventually the line becomes blurred with the cause of something a person is doing and the effect.

“Oh, not many people are willing to be open, hard-core conservatives? I’ll stump for Republican candidates and make clear my political affiliation.”

“What? Nobody pitches complete games anymore? Watch me pitch complete games.”

“Ballplayers are unable to make the transition from athlete to business without losing all their money? I’ll become Bill Gates-rich.”

Most of the quotes are designed to encapsulate my view of Schilling’s thinking except for the words, “Bill Gates-rich.” He actually said that.

It’s a window into his mind that he really believed that his video game company could achieve that level of inexplicable wealth when, for 99.9% of the world’s population, the money Schilling had accumulated as a player as well as the extras ballplayers get for endorsements, broadcasting, autograph shows and whatever would have been more than enough to support them and several generations after them. It’s an egotistical need that was being fed and, in turn, wound up devouring him, his money, and his reputation.

Was there an intentional decision on Schilling’s part to take the loans from Rhode Island and blow it all with nothing to show for it but lawsuits, contretemps and humiliation? Doubtful. But it’s disturbing and telling that he felt the state should have given him more money to prop up the business.

In a similar vein, I don’t think there was any intention on the part of former governor of Rhode Island Donald Carcieri to waste that money by giving it to Schilling. Schilling has accused the current governor, Lincoln Chafee, of intentionally sabotaging his video game business. I don’t think it was any of that. I think that each party was using what benefited himself and his vision for what would further his own interests. Schilling had absurdly ambitious plans and the belief that he’d bull his way through to achieve them without the experience and ability to do so; Carcieri wanted to create jobs to help the flagging economy in his state; Chafee jammed the spigot into the money flow before the investment grew more red than it already was.

What led to this were the mistakes made due to political calculations, desperate agendas, and a starstruck reaction to Schilling’s enthusiasm and name-recognition.

Schilling’s intentions were legitimate, but who would think it’s a good idea to hand him $75 million based on a vague business plan and grandiose statements backed up by his status as a borderline Hall of Fame baseball player? If Jimmy O’Brien from Boston showed up and tried to extract that money from the governor of Rhode Island, he wouldn’t even receive a reply. That’s how ridiculous it was. Since it was Schilling, he got the money.

Had Schilling chosen to lure a series of professionals—CEOs, CFOs, gaming executives—to assist him in allocating that money and creating a viable company, it could have worked with Schilling lending that same star power he used to get the money to selling it rather than running it. But Schilling decided to play big businessman and lost everything he had as well as a massive chunk of Rhode Island’s dwindling cash.

Because his intentions weren’t nefarious doesn’t make it much better than if he just walked in, scammed them, took the money and left because it’s the exact same result.

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Lusting For Luhnow, Part I

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We’re about a week away from a Jeff Luhnow bowel movement being encased in a climate controlled, clear reinforced plastic viewing chamber to be marveled at and admired 50, 100, 200 years from now in Cooperstown as if it was the work of a genius and not a bran muffin and coffee he had for breakfast on a particular morning in April of 2013.

For now, the adoration lavished on the Astros GM is limited to orgasmic sighs, lusty Twitter comments, and Hardball Talk postings about the I-Pads all the Astros’ players were given, beatific grins at the catchphrase in the clubhouse (“Process”), Baseball America columns discussing the number of Luhnow draft picks that opened the season on a big league roster, and the method in which Luhnow is rebuilding the Astros as if they’re an expansion team.

Of course it’s nonsense. With the free hand Luhnow’s been given by Astros owner Jim Crane, he’s in an enviable position on multiple fronts. First, the owner isn’t expecting results immediately and is letting the GM do whatever he wants in every aspect of the organization. Second, the media is rolling around and contorting itself into a pretzel to allow Luhnow a wide swath of absolution in spite of formulating a 2013 club that is going to be among the worst in the history of the sport. Third, his resume is being taken so drastically out of context that it won’t be long before he’s given credit for the Cardinals busting through from the team that constantly lost in the playoffs under Walt Jocketty/Tony LaRussa pre-2006 to the one that won two World Series in 2006 and 2011 with Luhnow as the scouting director. Fourth, he has the support of one of the largest growing constituencies in all of sports: the bloggers and social media “experts” who think they can run a club, scout, and analyze because they play fantasy baseball and can read a spreadsheet, yet never picked up a baseball in their lives and wouldn’t know what to do with one if they did.

Luhnow’s gutting of the Astros is fulfilling a mandate and reacting to the situation he entered. The Astros had bloated contacts, were notoriously thin in talent, and had neglected the farm system to the degree that there were very few marketable prospects for trade or development. He’s essentially running an expansion team in large part because he himself cleared out the house of any and all players that were there when he arrived. It may be a bit much to say they’re trying to lose, but it’s not too much to say they don’t care if they win. It’s a subtle difference and a large factor as to why they’re being allowed to put a team on the field that has a $26 million payroll and will have a dramatic impact on all of baseball with their historic and intentional awfulness.

Is it necessary to strip the whole apparatus down to its brass fittings in order to build it back up? No. It’s not. There are many ways to get where a club wants to go and the days of an expansion team having to take annual beatings for 5-7 years while their draft picks develop ended with free agency. The 1969 Mets and early 1980s Blue Jays were case studies of clubs that built from the bottom up and turned their fortunes around in year eight for the Mets (100 wins and a World Series), and year seven for the Blue Jays (89 wins in 1983 starting off a long run culminating in back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-1993).

However, those were the days before teams spent lavishly on free agents and had the ability to just buy their way into contention. Nowadays, it’s not necessary to wait. The Diamondbacks are the new age case study having won 100 games in their second season and a World Series in their fourth. Strangely, their success has been quantified as “lucky,” “mortgaging,” and “checkbook building” by then-owner Jerry Colangelo; then-GM Joe Garagiola Jr.; and then-manager Buck Showalter. They followed the strategies of Showalter—hired by the Diamondbacks shortly after the Yankees had fired him in 1995—and he took command of the implementation of Showalter-preferred teaching methods from that day forward. They were largely a creation of free agency by signing Randy JohnsonJay Bell and trading for Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams. This is often referred to with a scoffing eye-roll as if there’s something untoward about signing free agents and achieving rapid success with players drafted, signed and developed by other clubs. Like those who advocate eating organic foods and nothing else, there’s a sense of superiority for a team that developed their own players rather than purchased them. In reality, there’s no difference other than in the mind. The Yankees didn’t develop Babe Ruth. They bought him. So what? Does that diminish what he was? Not in any way.

The “development” attitude is supposed to be sustainable as if the atmosphere is being saved and global warming is being stopped by a player working his way through the organization and making it to the big leagues as a homegrown talent.

In the end, a win is a win is a win and it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s done by a bunch of mercenaries and a $150-200 million payroll or one with a $70 million payroll and the appellation of “genius” attached to the “architect” of the club.

The concept that what Luhnow is doing with the Astros is “right” is based on nothing more than the preferred public perception by the self-styled revolutionaries who feel as if statistics have taken over the game of baseball in an inextricable metamorphosis from what was to what is and what will be.

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Aroldis Chapman—Starter or Closer?

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Spring Training, Stats

The Reds have experimented with Aroldis Chapman as a starter this spring after he spent the first three seasons in the majors as a reliever. He was their closer in 2012 and saved 38 games with dominant 122 strikeouts in 71.1 innings. Overall, in his three years, he’s thrown 135 innings and struck out 212. It’s obvious why the Reds would like to see how he’d do as a starter with those kinds of strikeout numbers and a Randy Johnson/Sandy Koufax potential for left-handed dominance if he has the durability to start.

Let’s look at the various factors in Chapman as a starter or reliever from the point of view of the participants.

Aroldis Chapman

He’s said he wants to go back to the bullpen. How much of an influence the player has on his role depends on the player, his contract, how much of a pest he can make of himself if he doesn’t get his way. Chapman’s statement that he wants to close was said in a sort of passive aggressive manner of, “I want to close, but it’s not my decision.”

Some players would exercise a self-fulfilling prophecy and say they won’t be able to start and stay healthy and effective over a full season if they want to be in the bullpen, and then come up with a malady that may or may not be psychosomatic. In the age of heavy stat use, the mental aspect is regularly ignored but no less important. Years ago, the Dodgers’ on-again/off-again third baseman Pedro Guerrero was so miserable at third base that it affected his hitting. When the Dodgers finally said enough and moved him back to the outfield, he went on a tear. It took Jonathan Papelbon to go to the Red Sox in 2007 and basically “save” their season by saying he wanted to close. It’s not to be ignored what the player wants.

What the Reds need

The 2007 Red Sox didn’t have a closer and were on the verge of making the same mistake they made in 2003 by going into the season without someone who could get the outs in the ninth inning and having it cost them games and teamwide confidence. The Reds are not in that position. They re-signed Jonathan Broxton to close if the Chapman-as-starter experiment worked. What they promised Broxton is unknown. Given the closer market and how it crashed, Broxton wasn’t in a position to be making demands that he be the closer or he wouldn’t re-sign. He’s making $21 million over three-years to soften his bruised feelings and gaudy save stats if he’s not closing.

The Reds don’t need Chapman as a starter. He’s competing with Mike Leake for the fifth spot and they’d be perfectly fine with the rotation they’d have with Chapman in the bullpen.

Management

GM Walt Jocketty is not an ideologue as Theo Epstein was when he continually insisted that he wanted Papelbon to start. Brian Cashman did the same thing with Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees succeeded in nothing more than destroying Chamberlain. Because of that, it’s clear that Jocketty believes that Chapman could be a very good starter and he’s not trying it based on theory or what’s popular.

With that 100+ mph fastball, a slider and a changeup that he rarely uses as a reliever, he certainly has the stuff to be as good as Johnson and Koufax were. At age 25, it’s a tough thing to relegate him to the bullpen for his whole career when there’s that chance that he could be a Hall of Fame, Cy Young Award winning starting pitcher if only given the opportunity. An old-school baseball man like Jocketty also doesn’t want to be seen as having his decisions dictated by the players or by new orthodoxy.

Manager Dusty Baker wants Chapman to close.

For all the outsider talk that closing will be “easier” on a pitcher’s arm, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, John Smoltz, did both and said that closing was tougher on him than starting was and he preferred being a starter. He was great at both. It depends on the pitcher.

If Johnson, Koufax or Nolan Ryan came on the scene today, it’s very possible that the powers-that-be would have said, “No way they can maintain this velocity over 220 innings. Make him a closer.” The White Sox made Rich Gossage a starter in 1976. His record was a dreadful 9-17, but the team was awful and he was mostly effective in the role. His strikeout numbers plummeted and he hated it. He was moved back to the bullpen and went to the Hall of Fame.

The best decision

Considering the Reds depth in the starting rotation, there’s no reason to move X here and Y there to accommodate the Z theory for the sake of it. They have five starters and their bullpen would be devastating with Sean Marshall, Broxton and Chapman in the late innings. If they weren’t legitimate World Series contenders, it would make sense to let Chapman start and see what happens. But they’re in it to win now and that’s not the time to experiment. For 2013, they should move Chapman back into the closer’s role and keep it in mind that he might be capable of starting at some other time in his career, just not now.

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Zack Greinke Reverberations and Madness

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

The money

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

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

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

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

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

The media

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the rest of baseball

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

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

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

For the Dodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star power.

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

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

And for Greinke

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

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

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

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

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New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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How Does Pine Tar Help A Pitcher?

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When a pitcher throws a baseball, he gets his velocity from arm speed. Arm speed is enhanced by the use of his body. The legs, butt, hips and trunk generate the force to the arm and the arm delivers the baseball.

But what about the hands?

Pitchers with large hands are able to throw harder than pitchers with smaller hands and they don’t need as much arm speed to do so. If you watch a pitcher with a somewhat strange motion, little leg drive and pedestrian noticeable arm speed and they’re putting up a radar gun reading of 95 mph, there’s a great chance that they have larger than normal hands and long fingers. Jose Valverde of the Tigers regularly pops the gun at 94 mph+ without the powerful motion of a Tom Seaver or the clear leverage of Randy Johnson. He must have enormous hands to do it.

How does pine tar come into the equation to help a pitcher?

Pitchers sweat and their hands grow moist. No amount of wiping and resin is going to eliminate the underlying moisture that might compromise their grip on the ball. Pine tar is an inherently sticky substance that batters use to reinforce their grip on the bat, but it works for pitchers as well. The problem for pitchers is that it’s illegal.

Arm speed creates velocity, but the seams on the ball are where a pitcher makes the ball move. The more secure a pitcher’s fingers are on the seams, the greater rotation he’s going to get when he releases the ball. Because of this the movement is increased.

The seams are what’s responsible for the rise in a rising fastball; the cut in a cutter; the slide in a slider; and the break in a curveball. If a pitcher doesn’t have the seams, no amount of arm/wrist break is going to give him the movement he’ll get from the seams.

Pine tar increases the adhesion of finger to ball and with that, the spin.

As we saw this week with Joel Peralta of the Rays and in the past with Jay Howell when he was pitching for the Dodgers in 1988—both called out by manager Davey Johnson—pitchers place pine tar in their glove or somewhere on their body to use at their leisure. Other pitchers have been accused of doing it as well as we saw with Tigers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers in the 2006 post-season. It’s not a remote occurrence and while certain pitchers are brazen enough to stick it in their gloves where it can be easily found, others are more canny about it and place it surreptitiously on their neck; in their dip can; in some secret place that is easily hidden but accessible when they need it.

Any hitter can catch up to any fastball if it’s straight. If a pitch is moving, it’s harder to hit. Pine tar helps the movement on a pitch.

It’s a customary practice. Johnson found out about Peralta doing it and used that information to his advantage. But it happens all the time. Peralta just got caught.

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Showalter-Duquette Philosophies Mesh Neatly For The Orioles

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The histories of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette (provided the negotiations for Duquette to take over as Orioles GM don’t fall apart) bode well for the club to improve to respectability and contention within the next three years.

Showalter’s and Duquette’s preferences in building an organization center around having a big-time starter at the top of the rotation to gobble innings and be the anchor; having a lineup led by one basher and other, less-recognizable boppers; and a versatile array of background players who know their roles rather than the one star who has too much say-so in team matters; both like having relatively inexpensive and replaceable to fill in around stars.

With the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, Showalter had that one starter he could count on to front the rotation and provide quality every fifth day. Jimmy Key wasn’t a prototypical ace when the Yankees signed him, but that’s what he was for his tenure under Showalter; he had Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks; and rode Kenny Rogers with the Rangers.

Duquette had Pedro Martinez with the Expos and Red Sox—and acquired him twice in masterful trades for which he surrendered very little. He loaded his lineup with Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra to function as the centerpieces while acquiring underappreciated and patient mashers like Jose Canseco and using John Valentin and Tim Naehring whose on base skills weren’t widely known or paid for.

Duquette liked power/on base men before it became trendy.

Showalter favored having the egoless grinders filling his lineup and made it a point to get rid of Alex Rodriguez because he was too much of a diva and ate up a vast chunk of the payroll which could’ve been allocated for multiple pieces. Duquette had the nerve to let both Roger Clemens and Vaughn leave as free agents and was right in both cases.

The philosophies parallel and provide a window into what they’ll do moving forward.

The Orioles don’t have that veteran arm at the top of the rotation and that’s the first order of business. Nick Markakis could be a chip to get that arm. I don’t get the impression that the Giants are going to trade Matt Cain and the idea that they’ll trade Tim Lincecum is ridiculous, but that’s the type of arm the Orioles are going to pursue.

Would the Phillies listen on Cole Hamels? Why not ask?

Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics might be on the block. Mat Latos was born in nearby Virginia (for what that’s worth since he went to high school in Florida), would the Padres be desperate enough for a power bat that they’d consider dealing him?

Duquette and Showalter are going to get a big time starting pitcher from somewhere.

As for a power bat, there are several available. Prince Fielder might hit 60 home runs playing for the Orioles; they could bring in the always underrated Josh Willingham to replace Markakis if they trade him; and sign Edwin Jackson for another 200-inning arm.

Showalter and Duquette find closers rather than pay for them, so a younger pitcher or trying to get a Grant Balfour along with Gonzalez would be an inexpensive, hard-throwing option who’s never gotten a legitimate chance to be a semi-full time closer.

Because of the known strategies of both Showalter and Duquette, they’re going to work well together, be gutsy and aggressive and make the Orioles exponentially better by 2013 as long as there’s no interference from ownership.

Showalter was a desperation hire and was given large influence in club construction; Duquette appears to be an “oh, him” selection after others refused the job or backed out of interviews.

But it’s a good combination that’s going to work.

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What Price Friendship?

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New Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said in a conference call that he would consider shifting Hanley Ramirez to another position. Presumably that position would be third base. This set off speculation—that has been advanced in the past—that a Ramirez shift would coincide with the Marlins making a big move on Ramirez’s close friend and current Mets free agent shortstop Jose Reyes.

A big move would have to include many, many zeroes on the check Reyes receives for signing the contract.

In prior years, the Marlins would never have been involved with trying to sign a marquee free agent such as Reyes; but with their new ballpark and new manager, it’s been said that they’re going to be heavily involved in bringing recognizable star players to Miami to try and win with payroll rather than finding players on the scrapheap.

I do believe it’s possible that Reyes is courted by the Marlins; I also believe Ramirez would move to another position to facilitate the signing.

Talent-wise, it’s a terrific move to have two dynamic, offensive forces on the left side of the infield. Reyes is a far better defender than Ramirez; Ramirez would be able to play third base.

Financially, one would assume the Marlins can do it.

Logistically, it might draw a number of fans who would ordinarily find other avenues of entertainment in Miami.

In practice, I don’t know if it would work.

Reyes’s injury history is what it is. If, in his contract year, he was injured twice with the recurrent hamstring woes that have plagued him forever, it’s a warning sign for when he’s assured of $120 million.

Regardless of whether the Marlins and others begin to decry the Mets medical protocol as substandard and imply that they’ll keep Reyes healthy, he’s continually gotten hurt with the same injuries—the Mets didn’t make mistakes every time with Reyes; it’s not an issue to be discounted amid a celebratory gala to introduce him as the newest team star.

Ramirez is another matter.

Apart from 2011, he’s been durable and ultra-productive; he’s also been a nuisance by using his status as the highest paid player; the star of the team; and the pet of owner Jeffrey Loria to be the alpha-male in the clubhouse and try to bully colleagues and ostensible superiors. When Andre Dawson has to venture down to talk to Ramirez about his attitude (and bring Tony Perez along with him to prevent him from strangling Ramirez), it’s not a good sign.

The friendship between the Reyes and Ramirez is legitimate and not a made-for-public-consumption golf outing between two players like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson who were said to detest one another; Ramirez is the godfather to Reyes’s daughter and they would undoubtedly love to play together if circumstances are right.

Before automatically believing said circumstances are “right”, the Marlins need to calculate all the probable eventualities.

If the Marlins sign Reyes to a contract worth $120 million, where does that leave Ramirez?

Hanley Ramirez is signed to a super-team friendly deal that, when he signed it, was worth $70 million through 2014. He’s set to make $15 million in 2012; $15.5 million in 2013; and $16 million in 2014.

A signed contract is relatively meaningless in today’s sports world and that agreement doesn’t mean he won’t want an extension commensurate with what Reyes would be paid; with what Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun received from the Rockies and Brewers respectively to essentially set in stone that they won’t suit up for another club for the rest of their careers.

Am I the only one who can picture Ramirez grinning happily at the Reyes press conference not only because his friend is joining the Marlins, but because he thinks he too is going to get a similar contract as a matter of course with the club’s new free-spending ways?

The Marlins aren’t exactly the warmest and fuzziest of organizations; they’re ruthless bordering on brutal and—Loria’s prodigal son or not—won’t be automatically predisposed to compensating Ramirez to keep him quiet and happy.

With Reyes, he wasn’t malingering through his injuries and this is both a positive and a negative; if he couldn’t stay on the field in his contract year when the talk of him making a Joe Mauer-style killing in free agency was at its height in June while he was scorching hot, what are the chances of him getting through a 6-7 year deal on his aging, fragile, meal-ticket legs without the requisite hamstring problems popping up again?

And with Ramirez, his attitude has always been questionable; he’s gotten away with transgressions because of the reasons elucidated above. If he walks up to Larry Beinfest, David Samson or Loria himself with wide eyes and an expectant nod regarding an extension on top of his current contract, they’re more likely to tell him to take a hike than they are to acquiesce to his demands.

That’s where things get dicey; that’s where things can blow apart before they’re completely constructed.

Hanley Ramirez’s demeanor has always tended more toward the Manny Ramirez than the Jose Reyes.

Manny was well-known for letting his displeasure with whatever it was that irritated Manny at that particular moment seep into his on-field play. He would not hustle; he’d throw tantrums; he’d try to force his employer’s hand. The Red Sox ignored him (while trying to dump him repeatedly) because he was one of the most productive players in the history of the sport and because they needed him. It was only when he was in the final year of his guaranteed deal and set to have his contract options exercised—and was outright demanding that they not do so—that the team said enough was enough; they were able to bring back a reasonably comparable bat in Jason Bay, and they finally traded him.

It all looks good now and will look better if the Marlins do pursue and get Reyes. They have Guillen, an established manager with a long-term deal who won’t be under and mandate to tolerate Ramirez’s act; they’ll be talented enough to make a run at the playoffs if Josh Johnson returns healthy. But if Ramirez thinks he’s being slighted, that close friendship could turn into jealousy and anger before spring training is over.

Players go where the money is, not where their friends are; and after the heady excitement from childhood of “imagine if we played together in the big leagues” wears off, all that remains is reality.

The reality is almost exclusively about money.

On paper, getting Reyes and making Ramirez a third baseman would be a brilliant strike; but they’d better think long and hard about the signing and potential reverberations before jumping in with both feet because the aftermath could be disastrous if it doesn’t go according to the blueprint.

And these things rarely go according to the blueprint.

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Waiting (Hoping?) For The Breakdown Of Tim Lincecum

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Tim Lincecum got knocked around by the Diamondbacks in the Giants’ 7-2 loss last night.

The Diamondbacks’ broadcasters—I’m not sure who they were, but it wasn’t Daron Sutton and Mark Grace—were discussing Giants V.P. of Player Personnel Dick Tidrow and his suggestion that Lincecum, when he was drafted, go straight from college to the big leagues so his “max effort” innings (1000 was the number) would be used by the big league club and wouldn’t be wasted in the minors—the Giants would get “max” use from his “max” effort.

Needless to say, the Giants didn’t do that.

This was all said while Lincecum was getting pounded for the second straight start after having been brilliant from late June until recently; whether it would’ve been an issue had he struck out 16 and pitched a 2-hit shutout is unknown, but I’d guess the answer is no.

But he hit the magic number of 1000 last night.

“Magic” as in a nice, round number of convenience. Sort of like planning a military operation around the days of the week. It’s a random parameter and an imaginary smoking gun.

There’s a palpable rhetorical chafing among certain members of the Giants organization that they were and are completely left out of the Lincecum world. From the time he was drafted, there was an edict not to mess with his mechanics. And they haven’t. I still wonder what pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum on his visits to the mound. What is there to say? Coaches and front office people don’t like being marginalized, so they shake their heads and wait for the “I told you so” opportunity as if they want the guy to get hurt so they can be “right”.

Where the number 1000 innings got its start, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I was so dumb I thought that on the day of my 13th birthday, my voice would change as if that magical moment would flip a switch to adulthood.

Not much has changed.

Pigeonholing human beings and their physical limits is ridiculous.

No one mentions the pitchers who weren’t treated like delicate flowers that would shatter in a gentle breeze because it doesn’t “prove” their hypothesis. Greg Maddux; Randy Johnson; Nolan Ryan; Tom Seaver—they did something novel known as pitching. We’re seeing it with Justin Verlander now. Brandon Webb was allowed to pitch; was the best pitcher in baseball for 5 years; won one Cy Young Award; could’ve won two more; and got hurt with his career likely over. Would he have been better off to have been babied? Maybe he would’ve lasted longer, but I can’t see how he could’ve been a better pitcher; but he definitely could’ve been worse.

With the Verducci Effect and other such silliness, the above-mentioned names are considered outliers to the norm. But what’s the norm?

The “norm” that once existed was what was enacted—they were allowed to pitch. This was before the proliferation of laymen doing research and scrutinizing players from the time they’re amateurs; these laymen are creating a culture of paranoia.

Is Lincecum a part of the Seaver/Ryan/Maddux “norm”? Or is he part of today’s “norm”?

Lincecum, in his formative years, was kept in a Todd Marinovich-like cocoon (without the fascist father and the heroin) in his on-field endeavors and had perfect, undeviated mechanics from the time he started to now. How is he even part of this discussion? Because his development was different, he’s different and since he’s not one of “them”, he’s an exception to that which is supposedly documented as fact.

These innings limits and expectations of breakdown make it easier. Easier to explain away in injury. Easier to justify diminished velocity and results. Easy to shift the blame from someone, anyone in the organization and chalk it up to an arbitrary number of innings and pitches. It’s like someone having a heart attack—you don’t know why it happened and there’s no one to blame if there’s not a direct cause.

Just let the man pitch without the retrospectives, comparisons and groundwork to say, “it’s not my fault”. Please.

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