Cleaning Up the Daniel Bard Mess

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

It’s doubtful that Daniel Bard can hit or play the outfield like Rick Ankiel, so he won’t be able to move on with his career away from the mound. It’s pitching or nothing. The Red Sox designated Bard for assignment, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be pitching or doing anything for the Red Sox ever again.

The numbers are hideous. Bard didn’t make the Red Sox out of spring training, was sent to Double A and walked 17 in 12.2 innings. He was sent to lower levels in the Red Sox system and couldn’t get it together there either. It’s easy to start doling out the blame for what happened to Bard, a pitcher who had “future dominant closer” attached to his name for three years as a Red Sox set-up man.

The Red Sox moved him to the starting rotation in the dissension-racked 2012 season, jerked him between the rotation and bullpen sometimes within the same week and seemed unsure as to what they wanted to do with him. This was while they were using Alfredo Aceves as their closer following the injury to Andrew Bailey and could very easily have shifted Bard into the spot where he’s best suited – the bullpen – and left him there. He was sent to the minors where the wheels came off.

It’s essentially meaningless to finger one specific person or entity as to why Bard’s career in Boston disintegrated as it has. Bard himself wanted to be a starter, so he can’t complain that the Red Sox were forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do. The Red Sox have a fetish for making their homegrown relievers into starting pitchers without considering the worst case scenario as has happened with Bard.

Bard was clocked at 96-mph on his fastball, so the arm is still there. It’s going to take a complete teardown and rebuild to get him back to where he was in 2011. He’s worth the claim for a club to take him and try to get him straight. Just getting him out of Boston might be a big step in rejuvenating his career.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Advertisements

The Mets “Teach” Valdespin, But Who Teaches The Mets?

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats

Because the current Mets are so unrelentingly dull on the nights Matt Harvey isn’t pitching we’re getting stories created out of thin air like a Hollywood public relations expert deciding that it would be good idea to tamp down Calista Flockhart anorexia rumors by having her “caught” on camera at a ballgame munching on a hot dog. A few weeks ago it was Zack Wheeler complaining about the light air in Las Vegas affecting his pitching; now it’s Jordany Valdespin and the hit by pitch “controversy” from over the weekend against the Pirates. For a nothing story, this certainly has legs and it’s due in large part to there being only so much to write about Rick Ankiel and the days between Harvey’s starts.

Is this worth all the attention? Is Valdespin worth all this attention? And do these Mets from manager Terry Collins on down have the moral high ground to be dictating to anyone what it takes not just to act like a big leaguer, but to win in the big leagues?

No.

No.

And definitely no.

For all the irritating, high-handed condescension based on public relations and a crafted image than any actual reality, the Yankees are in a position to dictate to players, “This is how it’s done.” “This is how you behave when you win.” For Derek Jeter to scold a teammate (or to order his enforcer Jorge Posada to do it years ago), there’s a basis for him to tell them they’re not acting appropriately. When the Yankees got rid of Ian Kennedy in large part because of Kennedy’s mouth, they can accept the fact that he blossomed for the Diamondbacks into becoming what they promoted him to be as the most “polished” of the three “future stars” with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Only die-hard Yankee-lovers want to hear and believe Michael Kay’s tiresome, wide-eyed storytelling about impressive rookie reliever Preston Claiborne’s dad telling his son while they attended a Yankees-Rangers game in Texas that, “This is how to conduct yourself like a classy professional,” or some other paraphrased nonsense, but there’s a foundation of fact in a team that’s had extended success like the Yankees, Cardinals, Rangers and Phillies to publicly scold a misbehaving youngster. The Twins have had two consecutive atrocious years, but the structure of the organization with Terry Ryan, Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire implementing the code of conduct and “Twins Way” has given them the freedom to tell young players to act with a certain comportment or they’re not going to be with the Twins for much longer whether they’re winning or not.

For the Mets? As likable a player as John Buck is, he’s been on one winning team in his entire Major League career in 2010 with the Blue Jays and that team was an 85-win also-ran. Can he give a treatise on winning?

Ike Davis is the bastion of absence of accountability with his annual horrific start and usage of popularity in the clubhouse as a shield from the consequences that befell Lucas Duda when he was demoted last summer and Valdespin now. It’s almost as if Davis has accepted the lost months in the spring as a “just the way it is” addendum making it okay. It’s not okay.

Collins? Fired twice due to in-house mutinies and presiding over teams that appeared to quit late in the season in his two Mets seasons, does he really want to get into this type of teaching method from the old-school?

Valdespin is a talented and immature player and person who clearly needs to learn the proper way to act. The things that are seeping out about him now are, in my experience, a small fraction of what’s gone on with him. With any player if there are ten stories reported, there are 50 others that haven’t gotten out yet. But that doesn’t matter. The way the Mets are trying to “teach” him with the open lambasting, stony silence in answering questions without answering them, and making the situation worse by tossing him into a spotlight he can’t handle will serve to damage him further. The majority of these Mets—including the manager—are not in a position to take a young player with ability and say, “Get him outta here; he can’t help us win,” because most don’t have the faintest idea of what winning looks like to begin with.

//

How Much Worse Is Ankiel For The Mets?

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats

While it’s obvious fodder for ridicule for the Mets to be accepting refuse from the Astros when signing Rick Ankiel and immediately putting him in the lineup in center field, it’s not a simple matter of neatly encompassing the sad state of affairs of the club to attack the move. The Mets outfield has been about as bad as was predicted before the season with only Lucas Duda’s power and on base skills salvaging anything.

The center fielders the Mets have trotted out this season—Collin Cowgill, Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Juan Lagares, and Marlon Byrd—have hit for a combined split of .182/.217/.280 with 3 homers, 4 doubles and 2 stolen bases while playing the position. Ankiel, before he was released by the Astros, batted .194/.231/.484 with 5 homers. Historically Ankiel has been a good defensive center fielder and has the pitcher’s arm to prevent runners from trying to take the extra base.

No, he’s not good. But maybe with the solid rates that David Wright and Duda get on base, he’ll hit a homer every now and then to drive them in rather than leave them stranded on the bases.

Bottom line: he’s no worse than what they had before, so why not?

//

The Astros and the Antiquated “Process”

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

In this Tyler Kepner piece in today’s New York Times, the Astros and their plan for the future is again detailed. You can insert your own joke about their early spring training activity of practicing a post-victory celebration. By the time we get to August and they’ve likely traded off the rest of the veteran players they have on the roster including Carlos Pena, Bud Norris, Jose Veras, Rick Ankiel and Wesley Wright and released Philip Humber and Erik Bedard, they’ll be so dreadful that a post-victory celebration will be so rare that the celebration should resemble clinching a post-season berth.

What’s most interesting about the piece is the clinging to the notion that the key to success is still the decade ago Moneyball strategy (first put into practice by the late 1990s Yankees) to run the starting pitchers’ pitch counts up to get them out of the game and get into the “soft underbelly” of the middle relief corps and take advantage of bad pitching in the middle innings.

Is it still an effective tactic if everyone is doing it and the opposition is better-prepared for it? There’s a case for saying no.

Back then, most teams were still functioning with a middle relief staff of journeymen, youngsters and breathing bodies. In 1998, for example, the Red Sox won 92 games in comparison to the Yankees 114, made the playoffs, and had as middle relievers Rich Garces, John Wasdin, Carlos Reyes and Jim Corsi. The Indians of 1998 were the one team that put a scare into the Yankees that season and had Paul Shuey, Eric Plunk, Jose Mesa (after he’d lost his closer’s job to Michael Jackson and before he was traded to the Giants at mid-season), and other forgettable names like Steve Karsay, Chad Ogea and Ron Villone.

These were the good teams in the American League. The bad teams starting rotations were bad enough before getting into their bullpens that it didn’t matter who a team like the Yankees were facing, they were going to hammer them.

Today, the game is different. The pitch counts are more closely monitored, but certain teams—the Rangers, Giants and Cardinals—don’t adhere to them so fanatically that it can be counted on for a pitcher to be yanked at the 100-pitch mark. Also, teams have better and more diverse middle relief today than they did back then because clubs such as the Rays are taking the job more seriously.

Waiting out a great pitcher like Felix Hernandez is putting a hitter in the position where he’s going to be behind in the count and facing a pitcher’s pitch. In that case, it makes more sense to look for something hittable earlier in the count and swing at it.

With a mediocre pitcher like Jason Vargas of the Angels, he’s more likely to make a mistake with his array of soft stuff, trying to get ahead in the count to be able to throw his changeup, so looking for something early in the count makes sense there as well. In addition, with a pitcher like Vargas (and pretty much the whole Angels’ starting rotation), you’re better off with him in the game than you are with getting into the bullpen, so the strategy of getting into the “weaker” part of the staff doesn’t fit as the middle relievers aren’t that far off in effectiveness from Vargas.

Teams use their bullpens differently today. You see clubs loading up on more specialists and carrying 13 pitchers with a righty sidearmer, a lefty sidearmer, a conventional lefty specialist, and enough decent arms to get to the late relievers. The Cardinals are an example of this with Marc Rzepczynski as their lefty specialist; Randy Choate as their sidearmer; and Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly, both of whom have been starters, can provide multiple innings and throw nearly 100-mph.

I’m not suggesting hitters go to the plate behaving like Jeff Francoeur, willing to swing at the resin bag if the pitcher throws it, but swinging at a hittable fastball if it comes his way and not worrying that he’ll get yelled at for being a little more aggressive and deviating from the faulty “process.”

The Astros can use this idea of “process” all they want, but the reality is that they may hit a few homers and be drilling it into their hitters from the bottom of their minor league system up that they want patience and don’t care about batting average, but by the time they’re in the middle of their rebuild it might get through that this strategy isn’t what it once was. Waiting, waiting, waiting sometimes means the bus is going to leave without you. Other teams have adjusted enough so it won’t matter if the hitter is trying to intentionally raise the pitch count because it won’t have the same result as it did when the idea first came into vogue with Moneyball. And it’ll go out the window just as the theories in the book have too.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. It’s useful all season long. Check it out and read a sample.

//

National League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Washington Nationals

They have the minor league system to do something significant, but looking at their roster and the players they’re due to have eventually returning from injury, they don’t need anything.

Their offense has been somewhat disappointing as they’re 10th in the NL in runs scored. They’re not particularly patient at the plate, but they spent a large chunk of the first half of the season without Michael Morse and Jayson Werth; they lost Wilson Ramos and were playing Rick Ankiel in centerfield.

When they have their regular, everyday lineup out there and put either Bryce Harper or Werth in center to replace Ankiel, they’ll be fine in the run-scoring department.

Their bullpen has been lights out and Drew Storen will be back. In regards to Storen, I wouldn’t put much stock in his rehab results—he got blasted yesterday; as long as his velocity and movement are there, let him get back in shape without worrying about how he pitches.

What do they need? Some bench help? Okay. That’s something that can be acquired after the trading deadline when more teams are willing to clear out some players. Marco Scutaro, Ty Wigginton, Mike Aviles, Justin Turner are names to consider, but the Nats will be perfectly fine if they simply stay where they are and move forward with who they have.

Atlanta Braves

They need to buy but I don’t know if they will.

The Braves could use a big time starting pitcher but as has been the situation in the past, are they going to add payroll to get it?

GM Frank Wren made a big show of looking for a shortstop after Andrelton Simmons got hurt and then was forced to act when Jack Wilson got hurt as well. He traded for Paul Janish.

That’s not a big, bold maneuver.

They’ve been linked to Zack Greinke but I’m not getting the sense that the Brewers are ready to sell. Recently the suggestion was made that they were looking at Jason Vargas. Vargas and the words “impact starter” were used in the same sentence. Vargas is not an impact starter, but if I were a Braves’ fan, Vargas or someone similarly meh is what I’d expect them to obtain.

New York Mets

The three game sweep at the hands of the Braves is being taken as a calamity, but the Mets have been resilient all season long. They’re not buyers and nor are they sellers. They’ll look to improve within reason and not give up a chunk of the farm system to do it. Can they add payroll? No one seems to know. I’d guess that they can add a modest amount in the $5-10 million region and that’s only if it’s a player that the front office believes can make a significant difference and/or they’ll have past this season.

I’d avidly pursue Luke Gregerson for the bullpen and inquire about Joe Thatcher, both of the Padres.

Here’s one thing I would seriously consider: crafting an offer for Justin Upton centered around Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin. The big time pitching prospects in the minors—Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler—are off the table. The Mets could move Lucas Duda to his natural position of first base and get a 25-year-old, cost-controlled, potential MVP in Upton.

The Diamondbacks can consider moving Paul Goldschmidt for pitching.

Miami Marlins

They should probably just stay where they are and hope, but they have little choice but to be buyers.

Carlos Lee was acquired from the Astros to try and fill an offensive void and he hasn’t done much so far. Would they think about including Logan Morrison in a trade to shake things up? Justin Ruggiano is killing the ball in his first legitimate opportunity to play regularly in the Majors and his numbers mirror what he posted in the minors as a regular. But he’s 30. They have to determine its legitimacy.

The bottom line is this: they need pitching in the rotation and bullpen and are running out of time. Francisco Liriano is a target as is Grant Balfour, Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street and any of the other suspects.

Philadelphia Phillies

Here’s the situation: In spite of winning the last two games of their series against the Rockies, the Phillies are still 39-51 and 14 games out of 1st place in the division. They’re 7 ½ games back in the Wild Card race. Some of the teams still in the Wild Card race are going to fade. Realistically it’s going to take around 88 wins to take the last Wild Card spot. In order for the Phillies to reach that number they’re going to have to go 49-23 the rest of the way. Even with Roy Halladay returning tomorrow night, it is an almost impossible feat for them to pull off. If they were playing reasonably well, I’d say, “Okay, maybe they can do it.” But they’re not.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with Cole Hamels as the new talk is that they’re preparing a substantial offer to keep him. Maybe it’s true. But they need to get rid of Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino; see what they can get for Wigginton.

It’s not their year and if they sign Hamels that will probably assuage the angry fans—to a point—if Ruben Amaro Jr. concedes the season and gets what he can for the veterans who definitely won’t be back.

//

Harper’s Promotion Is Not Just About Playing Baseball

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

With the injury to Michael Morse, the Nationals have a huge hole in left field. Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder that has been negatively affecting his throwing and could be a recurrent problem. Rick Ankiel is a good defensive outfielder, but his offense is limited to an occasional home run and stolen base speed with lots of strikeouts and little plate discipline.

Bryce Harper’s recall from Triple-A is, in small part, baseball-related but there are other factors involved in the decision.

On the field, Harper won’t be worse than the left field combination of Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa. He has star potential and can provide immediate impact. At worst, he’ll hold his own between the lines.

Off the field, at 19-years-old and as self-involved, bratty, catered to and obnoxious as he’s shown himself to be, is he ready for the scrutiny, attention, jealousy and outright loathing he’ll attract? Probably not, but that will take care of itself.

In spite of a league-best 14-6 record, the Nats are 12th in the National League in attendance and there is a spot in the lineup for Harper—it’s not pure shtick to fill the park. They have nothing to lose by bringing him up now. His arbitration clock is ticking, but he’s not going to be eligible for free agency under any circumstances until after 2018. So why not have a look? They can always send him down.

It’s not going to happen this season, but the Nats’ configuration in the field will possibly have Zimmerman shifting to first base to account for his shoulder and inability to throw. Current first baseman Adam LaRoche is off to a hot start, but has a team option for 2013 that’s unlikely to be picked up. Anthony Rendon is a top third base prospect and Harper can find a home somewhere in the outfield.

The Nats are one of the few organizations in baseball with depth at third base, and they can replicate what the Dodgers of the early 1970s did when they had two big league-ready third basemen (Steve Garvey and Ron Cey) and one—Garvey—who couldn’t throw the ball to first base without it being a hair-raising adventure. They moved Garvey to first base and he became an MVP, perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner. For all of Garvey’s polished good looks, crafted image and Hollywood star power, the awkward and strange-looking Cey (known as the Penguin because of his odd body type and style of running) was an excellent player in his own right and as much, if not more, of a key to the Dodgers dominance in that decade and beyond.

The Nationals have similar options.

For Harper, it’s not the actual playing of that game that will be the attention-grabber, but how opposing clubs, umpires, the media and even his own team react to his first tantrum.

As far as playing, he’ll be fine, but if the Nats suggest that it’s a purely baseball-related decision, it’s simply not the truth.

My book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, is now available in the I-Tunes store.

Check it out here.

//

The Red Sox Freed Up Money To Sign…Cody Ross?

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

There’s a strange enthusiasm about the Red Sox signing of Cody Ross.

Here are the facts:

Unless they have another acquisition or deal on the burner, exchanging Marco Scutaro for Ross made no sense.

It’s easier to find an outfield bat for $3 million or less than it is to find a shortstop that can catch the ball and is as productive at the plate as Scutaro was.

The Scutaro trade was a salary dump. Those suggesting that the Red Sox saw “something” in Clayton Mortensen are hedging their bets in case Mortensen gets to Boston and becomes useful—they don’t want to have their words flung back at them. He’s on organization number four—a journeyman—who walks as many batters as he strikes out. He’s an inexpensive long-reliever with a minor league option remaining.

Basically, the Red Sox took half the money they saved on Scutaro, weakened shortstop and signed an extra piece in Ross. They’d have been better off signing Kosuke Fukudome or Rick Ankiel.

And I say this liking Cody Ross because he’s a tough player with pop.

He’s just an odd fit for a Red Sox team that needs another veteran starting pitcher more than exchanging Scutaro for Ross.

This is what the Red Sox just purchased.

Ross is a mistake hitter who, when a pitcher gives him a fastball in a spot he can handle, will take it over the Green Monster. For the most part, he hits the ball back up the middle and his main claim to fame is that he hammers Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

Halladay and Hamels aren’t pitching in the AL East.

Ryan Sweeney hits lefties really well, so one would assume that Ross and Sweeney will share right field.

I would not have traded Scutaro for Ross, and I definitely wouldn’t have traded Scutaro for a Ross who’s only going to play against left-handed pitchers.

They paid $3 million for a fourth outfielder who’s going to get 300 at bats.

If payroll constraints weren’t affecting the Red Sox maneuverings, I’d say go ahead and sign Ross as an extra bat; but they are affecting the Red Sox maneuverings and the money should’ve been allocated elsewhere since Scutaro was traded specifically to free up half of it.

Ross is an okay player. He plays good defense in the outfield, can play all three positions and is a feisty competitor. He doesn’t walk and strikes out a lot.

If they decided that he was more valuable than Scutaro—playing a harder position to fill—then I have to question where they’re getting their metrics and scouting judgments…or who’s making these determinations.

Back to the Duquette days.

New GM Ben Cherington began his career with the Red Sox under former GM Dan Duquette and worked closely with Epstein.

I seriously doubt he would choose the Duquette method of fill-in veterans around stars rather than a deep, strong foundation in building his club, but that’s what’s happening and it has the fingerprints of Larry Lucchino all over it.

The Red Sox are not giving Cherington the blank check or the freedoms his predecessor Epstein had. Epstein accumulated the cachet to go to ownership and get the budget expanded to acquire expensive veterans if he said he needed them. After the debacle of 2011, Cherington does not have that ability. He also has Lucchino meddling in team construction and was nudged to hire a manager, Bobby Valentine, he clearly didn’t want.

Let’s call this what it is.

The Red Sox are no longer operating with a plan in place, but are doing things based on haphazard edicts and a regression to the dysfunction that was a hallmark of the club before Epstein took charge.

This is not a good thing.

Duct tape and glued, divergent blueprints

The Red Sox have enough talent to maintain competitiveness, but there’s an air of desperation to “do something” along with financial demands and overt interference from the non-baseball people as if the crumbling fortunes from 2011 were a signal that the baseball ops had lost their collective abilities to do their jobs.

It’s easily forgotten that Epstein never wanted to spend, spend, spend to keep up with the Yankees; the demands of winning evolved to its logical conclusion as anything short of a World Series win became known as failure and the baseball people reacted accordingly and mistakenly.

They spent and overspent on “names”, shunning or dispatching the farm system that was one of the keys to putting the championship teams together in the first place.

Now, rather than intelligently repairing what ails them, they hired Valentine; they traded more young players for Andrew Bailey and Sweeney; they signed Ross.

They’re using duct tape in an attempt to patch the flaws and return to their winning ways.

But there’s nothing coherent. They’re filling in the potholes without fixing them. Multiple factions are gluing together separate blueprints—and that’s very hard to navigate successfully.

They’re all over the place in their decisions and implementations.

It shows on their roster and, unless they have some diabolical scheme ready to be unleashed, it’s going to show on the field as well.

//

The Nationals Need a Pitcher More Than a (Prince) Fielder

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Any team can use a bat that will hit 30-40 homers and get on base 40% of the time, but when that bat is attached to a body of jiggly flesh that’s going to grow larger and more jiggly as time passes; when the team doesn’t have the DH available to stash said player to account for his defensive deficiencies that are going to grow worse as he grows older (and larger); when the player is represented by an agent whose demands are starting at 10-years; and when the team has holes on the mound bigger than in their lineup, it makes little sense to spend the vast amount of money it’s going to cost to sign that player.

The Nationals have the money to sign Prince Fielder; they can certainly use his power; their ownership is very wealthy; and the team is on the cusp of legitimate contention, if not already there. But do they need him?

Their offense finished 12th in the National League in runs scored, but that’s misleading. Jayson Werth was awful in 2011 and will absolutely be better in 2012—in fact, I think he’ll have a very good year. Ryan Zimmerman missed a chunk of the season with an abdominal injury. They’re replacing offensive hindrances with occasional power, Rick Ankiel and Laynce Nix, in the regular lineup.

If Adam LaRoche returns and hits his 20 homers, they’ll score enough to win if their pitching performs; the rotation as currently constructed is good enough to loiter around contention; the bullpen is shutdown with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen shortening the game. But they need another starting pitcher who can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day and give them a designated number of innings. Mark Buehrle would’ve been perfect, but he signed with the Marlins.

The Nationals will eventually start to win as a matter of circumstance even as the front office does baffling things like trading a package for Gio Gonzalez that would’ve been suitable for a far better pitcher like Matt Garza; signing a good background player like Werth to a contract befitting a star; or seriously considering meeting agent Scott Boras’s* demands for Fielder.

*Do people realize that Boras was a minor league player before becoming an agent of evil? Click on his name above; he was actually a good hitter.

As much as the Nationals are playing up their starting rotation with the addition of Gonzalez, they don’t have a horse at the front. Stephen Strasburg is an ace talent, but your number one starter cannot be on an innings/pitch count—he’s not going to give them 200 innings next season. John Lannan is a good pitcher, but he’s not an every fifth day, “put the team on his back” guy either. No one can predict what Chien-Ming Wang is going to do. Jordan Zimmerman is in the same position as Strasburg.

The Nationals have talked about moving Werth to center field until next winter when B.J. Upton—in whom they’ve long had interest—will be available; Werth can play center field serviceably enough, but the smart thing for them to do would be to steer clear of Fielder; sign a pitcher who will give them 200 innings like Edwin Jackson; sign Cody Ross as a left field stopgap; and install Michael Morse in right.

Also, Bryce Harper is going to get a legitimate shot to make the team out of spring training. The Nats have to be careful with Harper and manager Davey Johnson must learn from the mistakes he made with a similarly hyped prospect and immature personality, Gregg Jefferies. Johnson coddled Jefferies and enabled the diva-like behaviors exhibited by the then 19-year-old; when he stopped hitting and his self-centeredness drew the ire of the Mets veterans, Johnson continued writing his name in the lineup creating a fissure between himself and the players with whom he’d cultivated a relationship from their formative years.

He cannot do that again.

If Harper is in the big leagues and Werth or Zimmerman feel the need to dispense old-school clubhouse discipline on the mouthy youngster, Johnson has to stay out of it; and if Harper isn’t hitting, he shouldn’t play simply because his name is Bryce Harper.

The one free agent bat at a key position they could’ve used was Jose Reyes; like Buehrle, he signed with the Marlins. Now the big offensive name remaining on the market is Fielder. But having a lineup inhabited by two players who are going to be contractually locked in for the next eight years limits flexibility and will result in diminishing returns quickly. If the Nationals have a budget, it will hamstring them financially as well.

They don’t need Fielder.

Signing him would be spending just for the sake of it and not help them achieve their goals any faster than they are now.

They’d be allowing Boras to play them just as they did last winter with Werth and it’s a mistake.

//

Be Careful With Gio Gonzalez

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Athletics’ lefty Gio Gonzalez is the hot pursuit of multiple teams this winter.

But there are red flags that would tell me to steer clear of him.

In fact, there are similarities between Gonzalez and other lefties—Jonathan SanchezOliver Perez and Rick Ankiel—who have or had great stuff, but were at risk of disintegrating at a moments notice.

Two of them did.

His arm lags behind his body and he has trouble maintaining an arm slot and release point; he barely uses his body and the entire stress of generating arm speed falls on his elbow and shoulder; he lands on a stiff front leg and throws slightly across his body.

These flaws could be a problem as his career progresses or they might not be—hindsight tells all with injuries; they’re probably a factor why he strikes out and walks so many hitters.

This is not atypical among lefties who rack up a lot of strikeouts and walks, in part, because of their lack of control and a funky, deceptive, ball-hiding motion. They miss bats, but they also miss the strike zone.

It’s much easier for a hitter to get comfortable with a pitcher like Greg Maddux, Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay (even with their willingness to knock hitters down) because he at least knows they’re going to throw strikes; there’s almost a surprised aspect to the games in which a Gonzalez, Perez or Sanchez have their control; by the time the hitters realize they’re not going to be walked, it’s the eighth inning, the boxscore makes it appear as if they’ve been dominated and the starter’s out of the game.

When a team is paying for incremental improvement and potential while ignoring landmines, they run the risk of doing as the Mets did and overpaying to keep Perez only to flush $36 million down the tubes.

Billy Beane—for all the mistakes he’s made in the journey from “genius” to mediocrity and worse—is not stupid.

He saw from across the San Francisco Bay what Jonathan Sanchez was; he knows that Gonzalez’s value is never going to be higher; Gonzalez is arbitration eligible under “Super 2” status and is going to get a big raise after consecutive seasons of 200 innings pitched and that he’s a rising “star”.

But trapdoors are rampant.

Sanchez has talent and it made sense for the Royals to acquire him; they only surrendered Melky Cabrera. The Royals knew that they had replacements at the ready for Cabrera and he would never again be as good as he was in 2011.

The phrase, “Gimme a break, it’s Melky Cabrera,” is a viable excuse to trade him.

But Beane’s not asking for a Cabrera in a deal for Gonzalez.

He asked the Marlins for Mike Stanton.

Few are looking for an underlying agenda in the shopping of Gonzalez because Beane has plenty of reasons to do it.

Under the guise of “I have no choice” Beane can mask the intent of why he’s trading Gonzalez if anyone asks. There are several simple answers to give and all are effective subterfuge to the issues listed above.

“He’s arbitration-eligible and we can’t pay him.”

“We’re not getting the new ballpark, so I have to tear the thing down.”

“He’s one of our most valuable assets and we’re trying to maximize him with multiple pieces.”

Responses like these will assuage any concerns that Beane’s selling the interested party a product that he might not want in the first place.

But if the Athletics were in a better position, Beane might still be looking to trade Gonzalez. This just makes it easier to do and get more in the process.

The fall of Beane has had some interesting side effects in his dealings. Since he’s no longer considered a “genius” who’s going to pick their pockets, opposing GMs won’t be as reluctant to trade with him; and with the legitimate reasons for putting Gonzalez on the market, he can get some quality in a trade and dispatch a pitcher who could come apart if one of his mechanical or control problems manifests itself and swallows up the talent therein.

If I were an interested team and the A’s demands remained on a level with Stanton, I’d wish Beane a good day and move on from Gio Gonzalez. There are too many concerns to give up a ton for a pitcher who’s hair trigger to implode at any time.

//

LaRussa Misplaces His Genius Hat As 2011 Mirrors 2006

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Umpires

We can search for any number of explanations to figure out why one of the most cerebral—some say too cerebral—managers in the history of baseball decided to do the bizarre things he did this past weekend.

From wondering whether Bob Brenly‘s presence in the TBS broadcast booth caused Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa to manage like Brenly (something no one wants to do); to asking (and not getting a reasonable answer) as to why he left Kyle Lohse in game 1 to face a series of hitters who have historically destroyed him; to debating the potential residue of shell-shock from the Rick Ankiel debacle in 2000 when the young pitcher lost the ability to throw his fastball for strikes in choosing Chris Carpenter on three days rest in game 2 over a rested Jaime Garcia and leaving Carpenter in when he clearly didn’t have his good stuff—there’s plenty to tear apart.

But as they head back to St. Louis, the seemingly overmatched Cardinals, who scratched their way into the playoffs on the last night of the season, are tied in the series 1-1 with the mighty, 102-win Phillies.

There is no explanation for LaRussa choosing to leave Lohse in game 1 with a 2-run lead and a group of hitters due to bat who have spent their career beating him like he owed them money; nor was there an understandable excuse for leaving Carpenter in game 2 as long as he did.

Resisting pitching Garcia in game 2 in the hostile terrain of Philadelphia in his first post-season start is viable after what happened to Ankiel.

Despite Carpenter’s struggles, the Cardinals got to Cliff Lee; LaRussa’s bullpen—which has been shaky at best all season—was masterful.

As a result, the Cardinals head home with a chance that I didn’t think they had after three innings in game 2.

LaRussa needs to keep doing what he’s doing. Does it matter that he’s been lucky and isn’t outsmarting his opponents? Only to his ego.

Whatever works!

This 2011 post-season is taking on a 2006 feel.

You have the heavily favored Rangers running into a group of upstarts, the Rays. Such was the same situation in 2006 as the Twins lost to the Athletics.

There are the reviled, arrogant and overtly obnoxious Brewers taking on the Diamondbacks. Back then it was the hated Mets and the Dodgers.

The Tigers upset the Yankees in 2006—in part because of nature-related delays/postponements and a clueless Alex Rodriguez. (Don’t bat him eighth is my advice to manager Joe Girardi.)

And the Cardinals had collapsed late in the 2006 season, managed to crawl into the playoffs and regained their footing in shocking fashion to win a championship.

We’re only two games into each series, but the circumstances are there for a repeat of what happened 5 years ago.

It would be as shocking and messy as it was then and equally entertaining.

From my perspective anyway.

//