Coco Crisp Takes His Talents Back To Oakland

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When MLB Trade Rumors published the posting that Coco Crisp had made his decision as to which club he wanted to sign with, many things ran through my head to solve the cryptic mystery of the unnamed team’s identity.

Was the team that he’d chosen aware that Crisp wanted to sign with them?

Did they want him?

Was he in the midst of negotiations—albeit on a smaller scale—with ESPN to broadcast The Decision in a similar way to LeBron James’s taking his talents to Miami?

Or was Crisp purchasing time on cable access channels nationwide befitting his somewhat lower level of fame in comparison to James?

Where was Crisp taking his talents?

Where?

Where?!?

WHERE?!?!?!?

As it turned out, Crisp re-signed with the Athletics for 2-years and a guaranteed $14 million.

There was no fizzle; no wild celebration; just a blank stare.

The most interesting aspects to this bit of news were the reactions of the Billy Beane defenders. Rather than accurately gauge the signing for what it is—pointless—they found ways to continue defending the indefensible “genius” for doing things that make absolutely no sense.

Dave Cameron summed up the Beane-defenders’ reaction with the following on Twitter:

Whether A’s should be team paying for 32-year-old CF is another story. But Crisp is a solid average player, easily worth $7M per year.

Would those who aren’t sacred cows in the stat revolution have gotten this pass? What if it was Royals GM Dayton Moore, Giants GM Brian Sabean or Phillies GM Ruben Amaro who had made this decision?

If they’d made suspicious trades of young pitchers who should be the foundation of a rebuild, there would certainly be multiple articles, blogs and comments tearing into the haphazard maneuvers being made. But because it’s Beane, there’s a desperate search for justification and a reluctance to criticize him in anything other than the most wishy-washy and general terms.

The money is irrelevant and the justifications flawed.

My theory has always been that teams should overpay for what they need and set a line—based on a myriad of factors—for what they want.

The Athletics don’t need Crisp.

Can they use Crisp?

Why not? He’s a good outfielder; has some pop and speed; and appears to be well liked by the media, teammates and fans.

But did they need him?

You tell me.

The A’s are in a nightmarish division with two powerhouses, the Rangers and Angels; they just traded their top two starting pitchers for packages of youngsters and are starting over in anticipation of a new stadium in San Jose that may never come.

What do they need a veteran center fielder like Crisp for? They’re going to lose 90 games with him; they’ll lose 90 games without him.

If Beane were the “genius” and ruthless, fearless corporate titan his fictional biography portrayed him as being, he’d have found a center fielder on someone’s bench or Triple A roster, traded for him and installed him as the new center fielder giving him a chance to play every day—sort of like he did with Scott Hatteberg at first base in 2002.

Teams are no longer fearful of doing business with Beane because the perception that he’s picking their pockets has been destroyed by reality, randomness and consistent mediocrity.

Would the Giants be willing to deal Darren Ford? The Astros J.B. Shuck? The Blue Jays Darin Mastroianni?

The “who” isn’t the point, but the “why” is.

Why do they need Crisp?

They don’t.

Technically, based on ability and markets, they didn’t overpay for him; but overpaying isn’t only about giving a player too much money, it’s also about signing him at all.

Either Beane’s running the team with a plan or he’s not; what the Crisp signing signifies is that there is no plan. He’s just “doing stuff” like so many other executives do, except they’re not relentlessly defended for it, nor are they doing it with the appellation of “genius” hovering over them and placing everything they do under the microscope of a fictional tale.

And the microscope is telling all.

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The Ryan Madson Free Agency Profile

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Name: Ryan Madson.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-31.

Height-6’6″

Weight-200.

Bats: Left.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 9th round of the 1998 MLB Draft.

Agent: Scott Boras.

Might he return to the Phillies? No.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; New York Mets; Florida Marlins; Cincinnati Reds; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

He has a good fastball and excellent changeup; Madson’s herky-jerky motion is all arms and legs and makes it difficult to pick the ball up out of his hand; he’s been mostly durable apart from some silly injuries from kicking things; he throws strikes and has experience in the post-season and with a difficult fanbase in a passionate sports town. Madson is good against both lefties and righties.

Negatives:

That herky-jerky motion isn’t gentle on one’s body and is especially stressful on his arm; he’s been heavily used since 2004. Madson wants star closer money with a limited closer pedigree; he’s struggled at times and can be prone to allowing the long ball; his strikeout numbers are fewer than one-per-inning.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $44 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $34 million with a vesting option for a fourth year at $12 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox; Orioles; Royals; Twins; Rangers; Marlins; Reds; Dodgers.

The Red Sox are not going after Madson unless his market crashes and he’s willing to take 2-years with an option.

The Royals are on the list because there’s a chance they trade Joakim Soria and if that’s the case, they’ll need a closer.

Dan Duquette likes having a legitimate, proven reliever at the back of his bullpen; Buck Showalter has had both a foundling-type short reliever and has used multiple people in the role; he’s also had that “one guy” and Madson can get out hitters from both sides of the plate.

The Rangers will sign a closer and move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation.

Jeffrey Loria is putting it out there that the Marlins are going to spend big with offers to Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols; they have to sign someone and with the questions surrounding Juan Oviedo/Leo Nunez, Madson fits.

Francisco Cordero might not return to the Reds as a free agent and Madson is about as good as he is.

The Dodgers somehow find money to spend despite their ownership mess; Javy Guerra did well as the Dodgers closer but Ned Colletti likes veterans and Madson is a veteran despite being relatively inexperienced in the job.

Would I sign Madson? The back-and-forth regarding Madson’s “agreement” with the Phillies and their denial that there ever was such an agreement is comical.

I detailed my suspicions when it happened, but here’s what I suspect, briefly: Madson and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro agreed to a contract; Amaro needed approval from team president David Montgomery; Montgomery wanted to know why the Phillies were paying so much for Madson when a bit more could get them Jonathan Papelbon; the deal was nixed; they went after Papelbon and got him.

Now Madson’s looking for work.

And the Phillies are better with Papelbon.

At a reasonable price I would sign Madson, but given that he’s represented by Boras and wanted 4-years and $44 million and that the Phillies preferred the more expensive Papelbon, I’d be extremely cautious before committing to Madson long-term. I don’t trust him and for that kind of money, a team needs to be sure they know what they’re getting.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If they guarantee $40 million, yes. If they get him for, say, 3-years at $27 million with incentives, no.

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The Phillies And Ryan Madson—Leaks And Lies And Baseball

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Much like the Keith Law-Michael Lewis dustup over Law’s negative review of Moneyball (which was somewhat embarrassing for both parties, but was absolutely and completely hysterical), someone in the Phillies-Ryan Madson contract negotiations and reporting is lying.

First, Jon Heyman and Jim Duquette said on Twitter that the Phillies and Ryan Madson had agreed to a 4-year, $44 million contract with a $13 million.

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports said the same thing.

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com said the Madson camp told him there was no agreement yet and talks were ongoing.

It sounded done. And stupid.

But wait!! All contracts have to go to ownership for approval. But given the series of maniacally overpriced contracts that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has given to players like Ryan Howard along with spending big on Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and with Jimmy Rollins a free agent, team president David Montgomery didn’t sign off on what Amaro wanted to do.

Now the Madson agreement might be on the verge of collapse with Jonathan Papelbon a possibility for the Phillies.

If you believe the rumors (and I don’t) Madson could be a target for the Nationals, Rangers or Red Sox.

Madson’s been a closer for one year and that wasn’t even full-time; paying him on a level with a proven short reliever like Papelbon, Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez (remember him?) is idiotic.

Jayson Stark said on Twitter that Amaro called the rumors unequivocally false and that there was no agreement.

Lots of stories.

Is someone lying? Or is what most normal people would consider lying in real life—intellectually and otherwise— “just baseball” as Mike Marshall said in Ball Four?

The following is what I suspect based on my own analysis of baseball and human nature.

Ready?

Here we go:

Amaro and Boras had the parameters in place for a deal with the reported dollar figures; Boras leaked it to friendly reporters in an act of quid pro quo—they exchange information for mutual benefit; the reporters reported it and people believed it was true because it was true; all that remained was for Amaro to get approval from Montgomery—an approval that had been fait accompli in prior negotiations; but the public reaction to the contract for Madson was widespread and negative; Montgomery hesitated, understanding the ramifications of being the first team to sign a closer (who is only a semi-closer for part of a season) and spending that amount of money when the Phillies have upcoming layouts to Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence; he nixed the it and wondered whether that same money or slightly more could get a better and more proven reliever in Papelbon; this left Amaro in a bad position because if the deal was done and the club president turned it down, Amaro looks impotent and powerless in the organization and, worse, to his peers, media and public; and with the criticism levied as the details initially leaked, the Phillies are going to look even dumber if they still give it to him and he pitches poorly; in a face-saving maneuver, Amaro played semantics and told Stark that there was no deal—which is technically true because he needed Montgomery’s okay; and Montgomery didn’t okay it.

At this point, I highly doubt that Madson will receive that same $44 million from the Phillies and I’m sure that Boras is really, really angry.

I think Papelbon is going to wind up with the Phillies and they’ll be better because of it.

I’m not getting this from anywhere other than my own understanding of people and baseball.

You’re better off listening to me because there’s no agenda; nor is there a trade-off in play.

You know what you’re getting here, for better or worse.

Do you know with the “insiders”?

I think we both know the answer to that question.

If you’re smart, you do know what you’re getting from those with a vested interest in the proceedings and that you shouldn’t believe it because it may be twisted or false—presented as such for their own purposes.

And you’re their target.

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The Ryan Madson Wheel Spins

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This is why the owner/team president has to be involved and aware of all negotiations and offers that are being discussed.

After it was reported that the Phillies and Ryan Madson had agreed to a 4-year, $44 million contract with a $13 million option for a 5th year, suddenly the brakes screeched and, lo and behold, it wasn’t “official” or it wasn’t “done-done”; or team president David Montgomery hadn’t give his approval; or something.

Montgomery has given GM Ruben Amaro a remarkable amount of freedom to do what he wanted to do; to bolster the big league product by whatever means necessary (trading the entire farm system), and at whatever cost he recommended (the Ryan Howard $145 million catastrophe; bringing back Cliff Lee); now it appears as if Montgomery is closing the vault when a financial commitment makes no sense whatsoever.

Madson, after his first year as a semi-full time closer, was apparently offered a dollar amount that would potentially have lured the battle-tested and better Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia.

The Madson signing is on hold.

Murky details are provided in this Philadelphia Inquirer piece where Bob Brookover says that the Madson camp may have “misinterpreted” (whatever that means); and that “it could be argued that Madson is coming off a better 2011 (than Papelbon)” without bothering to make the argument.

The “argument” would be inconvenient to make because it doesn’t exist. Papelbon’s better. Papelbon was better. Papelbon will be better.

It’s a form of public castration of an executive to prevent an agreed-upon deal after the fact, after it’s been reported that it was done—and I do believe it was done—but Montgomery is right to say “wait a second” and reconsider the options of what can be purchased or maintained with that amount of cash.

Whether it was the public reaction; media and blogger ridicule; or basic common sense—it’s only relevant in the perception of Amaro. In trusting their baseball people, club bosses have signed off on contracts that they were uncomfortable with. Perhaps these circumstances were such that said owners/CEOs felt it was more important not to undermine the titular head of their baseball operations. But this Madson contract was and is ludicrous and now it’s going to be even more embarrassing to the Phillies if they still agree to those numbers after hesitating because Madson simply is not going to be worth that money.

This is why the head of the organization proper has to be cognizant of what’s being offered; the GM has to have a number in mind and run it by the people who sign the checks before presenting it. Scott Boras—Madson’s agent—can get any story he wants into the media at any time, true or not; once the details of the deal were out there, the magnitude of the investment became clearer…or maybe Montgomery didn’t even know about it, which is somewhat unfathomable, but possible. Teams will let such occurrences pass to protect the organization from the aura of ineptitude that happens everywhere, but is generally relegated to teams like the Mets, Orioles and Pirates because it’s convenient to frame those teams as not knowing what they’re doing. But there are no GMs with full autonomy to do whatever they want—it’s a myth—and the spinning from the club’s PR department won’t gloss over that reality.

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The Heath Bell Free Agency Profile

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Name: Heath Bell.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-34.

Height-6’3″.

Listed weight-260.

Actual weight-probably closer to 275.

Bats: Right.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 MLB Draft and did not sign; signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets in 1998; traded by the Mets to the Padres in November, 2006.

Agent: ACES Agency.

Might he return to the Padres? Bell’s said that he’ll accept arbitration if the Padres offer it, but given the money being tossed around (and possibly being removed from the table) for Ryan Madson, he might rethink that strategy.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Philadelphia Phillies; New York Mets; Los Angeles Dodgers; San Diego Padres.

Positives:

Bell is gregarious and well-liked in his clubhouse; his fastball lost some velocity in 2011 and his strikeout numbers declined with it, but his hits/innings pitched ratios have been consistently good for his entire tenure in San Diego. He throws strikes and doesn’t allow many homers.

Negatives:

He has a big mouth and acts strangely and selfishly at times.

What was the purpose of his mid-season statement that he was going to accept arbitration from the Padres if it was offered? Was he trying to force their hands into either trading him or giving him a contract extension? Was it an innocent bit of honesty that wound up hindering both his situation and that of the Padres?

Why?

Either way, the Padres held onto Bell after entertaining trade offers and new GM Josh Byrnes has said he’s going to offer Bell arbitration.

Bell never got over the way the Mets—the team that signed him as an amateur free agent when no one else wanted him—continually sent him back and forth to Triple A. Bell has a vendetta against the Mets for not giving him a legitimate opportunity.

One problem: the Mets did give him a legitimate opportunity and he pitched poorly in both 2005 and 2006. Some will ramble endlessly about his strikeout-to-innings-pitched ratio. It’s not unimportant, but if you look at the results for Bell with the Mets, they weren’t good. The Mets made an atrocious trade in sending Bell to the Padres for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, but the mistake they made wasn’t in trading Bell, but in what they got in return.

Bell also came sprinting in from the bullpen during the All Star game and slid into the infield grass, kicking up a divot and popping up as he was called on to pitch.

I have no idea why.

The declining strikeout numbers didn’t hinder his results, but he’s 34-years-old; his mechanics aren’t great; he’s overweight; and his velocity is diminished.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $45 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $31 million.

In case you missed it, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro had come to an agreement with Scott Boras, the agent for Ryan Madson, for Madson to stay with the Phillies for 4-years and $44 million with an option for a 5th year at $13 million; apparently, when Amaro sent the contract up to team president David Montgomery for approval, Montgomery—smartly—wanted to think about it.

I went on a tangent in my prior posting about how the Phillies were making a mistake and that they should try to get Jonathan Papelbon instead of spending so capriciously on a relatively neophyte closer in Madson.

Now there’s talk that the Nationals are possibly after Madson. What they would want with Madson is a great mystery since they have Tyler Clippard as the set-up man and Drew Storen as the closer—both are better than Madson.

Bell is three years older, but he too is better than Madson too and the hesitation on the part of the Phillies bosses will also place the entire closer market on hold until someone signs and sets the market.

The Madson-Phillies deal may be done by the time you’re reading this which would put my prior post back into play to an even greater degree because if the Phillies rethought the deal and still signed off on it, it’s even worse than it was originally.

Teams that might sign him: Red Sox; Blue Jays; White Sox; Twins; Rangers; Phillies; Mets; Dodgers; Padres.

If the Red Sox lose Papelbon, they’ll need a closer. The Blue Jays desperately need a reliable reliever. Neftali Feliz might become a starter for the Rangers—they were trying to get Bell in the summer and he’d be in their price range. The Mets regime is different from the one that Bell feels did him wrong.

Would I sign Bell? I would not touch Heath Bell.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If the deal is of the short-term, reasonably priced variety, I guess the signing club will be able to absorb it, but I’d steer clear of Bell. If it’s an amount of dollars close to the reputed Madson contract, it’s going to be a disaster.

Offering arbitration would give the Padres the draft pick if he leaves and other options. If he accepts, I’d trade Bell; the Padres should not sign him to a long-term deal. Luke Gregerson can close just as well, if not better.

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Chuck LaMar’s Resignation And Defending Ruben Amaro

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Phillies GM Ruben Amaro took steps—as misguided as they were—to maintain a talent base in the minor league system by trading Cliff Lee for a bunch of prospects simultaneously to trading for Roy Halladay. Those prospects have yet to work out and, in fairness to Amaro, nor have those he traded to get Halladay.

In response to the blowback from making that deal and as the Phillies were struggling at .500 at mid-season 2010, he traded prospects for Roy Oswalt to fill the hole that was created by the trade of Lee and was rewarded with a division title and a trip to the NLCS; this season, he felt he needed a righty outfield bat and went and got Hunter Pence for more youth.

Amaro bolstered the big league product and put a team together that’s contending for a World Series and should continue to do so at least through next season.

In addition to that, by getting Lee back as a free agent, he corrected the original mistake that started all the fuss.

The public outcry was probably less of a reason for the switch from one tack to the other than the struggles of the youngsters he got in the Lee trade—Phillippe Aumont; J.C. Ramirez; and Tyson Gillies.

Amaro smartly shunned that strategy and sought to win now with established players.

When doing that, of course the developmental side of the organization is going to suffer.

That was Chuck LaMar’s department.

For the record, Aumont has pitched well in Double and Triple A this year.

Now, LaMar has resigned; the decision stems from the Phillies inability to pay the bonuses for drafted talent required to keep the pipeline as productive as its been.

You can read about the LaMar point-of-view here on Philly.com.

On the surface, it seemed to be a capricious, ill-thought-out move; a mistake not in the Jim Riggleman realm of self-immolating and stupid, but a mistake nonetheless.

It’s easy to understand where LaMar is coming from in his frustration of not being able to draft and sign the players he wanted because of finances; but look at it from Amaro’s position: the Phillies are not the Yankees or the Red Sox. If the Phillies are spending $165 million on big league payroll, they’re not going to have the money to maintain a farm system as they did on the way to building this current team; part of maintaining that farm system is spending money on bonuses.

When drafting, teams can get lucky with players who were selected in the lower rounds and didn’t require a heavy bonus, but that’s a byproduct of a myriad of factors that can’t be counted on to happen on a regular basis.

It’s likely to remain this way for the next several years because, as they shave the likes of Raul Ibanez and Oswalt from the bottom line, they’re going to have to pay Cole Hamels, Pence and decide what to do with Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson.

LaMar wanted more money to sign drafted players and to find undrafted talent; but if the money’s not there, it’s not there.

Obviously the Phillies are eventually going to pay the practical price on the field for having a star-studded, aging big league club and neglecting finding young talent, but in the process they might win this year’s World Series and will contend for more in the foreseeable future. That’s worth a few lean years of rebuilding because of the issues that spurred LaMar’s resignation in the first place.

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MLB Trade Deadline Stories 7.28.2011

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Update: Click here for a new posting with video and analysis of the young players traded to the Astros for Pence.

Are you buying this? I’m not buying this.

Some of these rumors are so ridiculous that they couldn’t possibly be true in any business enterprise other than baseball.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not accurate.

According to MLBTradeRumors, the Phillies offered top prospects Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and possibly even Domonic Brown to the Astros for Hunter Pence.

Pence is a good player, but he’s not worth two top prospects, let alone three. Ruben Amaro Jr. has done some stupid things in his time as GM, but he’d redeemed himself in my eyes with his fearless recognition and correcting of the mistake he made in trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay. If he sells the farm for Pence, it’s a stupid thing to do because that package could get essentially whatever the Phillies want now and definitely after the season—better players than Pence.

I’m not buying this story and if I’m the Phillies I steer totally clear of Ryan Ludwick as well. They really don’t need a bat to that desperate degree.

Speaking of Ryan Ludwick…

If I were the Braves, I’d forget Ryan Ludwick too. Josh Willingham, yes. Ryan Ludwick, no.

And speaking of Willingham…

I’m getting a “we don’t care anymore” vibe out of Oakland.

The team is atrocious and the lukewarm defenses of Billy Beane are becoming even more ludicrous. Please don’t think silly stories that are popping up of Beane “figuring it out” are anything more than those still invested in the validation of Moneyball.

Without that book and forthcoming movie (which has nothing to do with the text of the book—you’ll see), Beane might’ve been fired long ago. The team’s a disaster. Don’t tell me anything different and don’t remove blame from the man in charge—Billy Beane. He gets credit for the good, he gets blame for the bad. That’s the way it works in reality; not in Michael Lewis’s fantasy world.

On a related subject…

Can we bag the growing talk about the brilliance of Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos? It’s ballooning into the eventual designation of “genius”—something that is easy to anoint and nearly impossible to achieve, especially in baseball. It’s too fleeting; too dependent on perception and story-framing; too reliant on the last move that might or might not have worked.

He’s a good, gutsy GM whose team is hovering around .500 and probably has a bright future.

Let’s leave it there for now.

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That Explains Michael Young

Free Agents, Media, Players, Spring Training

Explanations amid the bewilderment of why, why, why the Phillies were said to be kicking the tires of Michael Young a few weeks ago varied from overkill to my contention that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. called the Rangers just to check-in on Young; see what it would take to get him; gauge how desperate the Rangers were to move him and if they’d provide any financial relief for Young’s remaining $48 million on his contract while simultaneously taking little in terms of talent back.

Now we know.

Chase Utley has a knee problem—patellar tendinitis—that has prevented him from playing in any spring training games so far and he received a cortisone shot yesterday. There’s no “cure” for tendinitis apart from rest and anti-inflammatory medicine to alleviate it or, as Utley just had, a shot to make it bearable so he can play.

The Young inquiry now has a basis in fact apart from wanting to get a highly expensive roving utility player. Considering the paucity of second basemen available, Young is a reasonable replacement for Utley; plus Young can play shortstop and third base (both Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have had injury issues of their own in recent years).

Now it makes sense as to why (why, why) the Phillies were looking into Young.

This should probably present a lesson: there’s always a reason for teams to do what they do; despite my ravaging him for trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay so many moons ago, he had a reason for doing it; there’s always a reason.

Well, except for the Pirates.

But they don’t count.

In other Phillies news, Domonic Brown broke his hand swinging at a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Pirates—ESPN Story—setting off a firestorm of panic regarding the “injury-plagued” Phillies.

The purpose of this overreaction is beyond me.

Brown was surrounded by questions; the club has been looking into alternatives—Mike Morse recently and Jeff Francoeur in the winter—since Jayson Werth‘s departure, now they suddenly can’t live without him?

The Phillies will be fine for the time being with Ben Francisco and Ross Gload sharing right field until someone comes available at mid-season if Brown can’t handle the job.

Brown’s readiness for big league duty should be determined by his play; they should’ve shut their eyes and told Brown he was the right fielder and lived with him for the first couple of months of the season, sink or swim.

Then we get to the talk of the Phillies not being as offensively powerful as they’ve been in the past with age, injury concerns and the loss of Werth.

It’s shaky at best.

Let’s say hypothetically that their offense is compromised due to age and decline. So what? With that starting pitching, they’re not going to allow as many runs as they did in the past, therefore they won’t need to score as many.

All this talk about their bullpen being weak is nonsense. Both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are in their free agent years (Lidge has a $12.5 million option for 2012) and are looking to get paid; Jose Contreras was good last season; they don’t need to be the offensive juggernaut they were in prior years; and they’re still going to score plenty of runs.

Rollins’s fall from MVP in 2007 to what he is now has been steep and worrisome, but certain things tell me that Rollins is going to have a major comeback season.

He’s expressed a willingness to alter his approach from the arrogant and self-defeating “I’m gonna be J-Roll” silliness that’s been a byproduct of his loudmouthed, blustery personality; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and at age 32, wants to get that last big contract.

Naturally there’s a correlation between his sudden agreeable response to entreaties that he change his hitting strategy and him wanting to get paid; but considering Rollins’s massive ego, it cannot be dismissed that his faltering rep around baseball as a big-game threat also has something to do with this willingness to change.

The criticism and caution regarding the Phillies—their age, injuries and departures—exemplify grasping at straws hoping they won’t be as good as their talent indicates they will be.

And they’re wrong.

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The Urkel Effect

Media, Players, Spring Training

Does it need to be said that Barry Zito is better than Jeff Suppan?

The mere concept of the Giants releasing a pitcher who’s owed $64.5 million through 2013 is ridiculous in and of itself, but it might make some semblance of sense if the replacement weren’t Suppan.

Aside from that, t’s nonsense.

And naturally it’s coming from Buster Olney.

You can see the important bits and pieces from the MLB Trade Rumors link here.

What happened to Olney?

There was a time when he was a respected baseball writer for the New York Times; but since moving to ESPN, he’s become little more than fodder for jokes and the equivalent of a tabloid journalist taking half-truths and innuendo and—as a matter of connectivity with his employer—blowing them out of proportion to gain readers, viewers and reactions.

Such was the case last year with the “rumor” that the Phillies and Cardinals were considering a swap of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols. It was written up as if it were viable; Olney went on ESPN News to discuss it and, with the hostess uttering such inanities as “So, Buster, how close is this to happening?”, he launched into a discussion of it “not being close” but indicated that such a bit of derangement was possible.

It wasn’t and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said so; in fact, he sounded further aggravated than he presumably already was as he was still under siege for his decision to trade Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay; he didn’t need to be answering questions about idiocy at that point and conducting an investigation of his underlings as to whom Olney’s “source” was—if said source actually existed.

Now that I think about it, the deal was close. It was about as close as NASA is to sending an astronaut (or a trained monkey) to Pluto.

I don’t want this to turn into an indictment and diatribe against ESPN and Olney alone; looking at the concept of releasing Zito in favor of Suppan is outright lunacy and salary has little to do with it.

You can compare Zito to the old TV character Steve Urkel played by Jaleel White on Family Matters. When he was a kid, Urkel was cute, funny and entertaining; the suspenders, nerd glasses and hiked up pants made him a household name; but years later in the final stages of the show and as White grew to be very tall, it wasn’t funny anymore; it was disturbing.

The Giants are “frustrated” with Zito? Obviously and it’s got nothing to do with anything other than his salary and his performance.

The canned quirkiness; the special pillow he needed to sleep; the teddy bear; the hipster clothes and funky personality were all accepted and promoted while he was winning 18 games for the Athletics and dating starlets—all were part of the Zito “personality”. Now that he’s a financial albatross with an 85-mph fastball and the fifth wheel in a championship-winning starting rotation, it’s not cool anymore.

Regarding the implication that Suppan could take Zito’s spot, it’s not just crazy in the financial sense. Suppan’s not any good. He’s got little left in the tank; his career rise stemmed from the way the Cardinals, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan utilized him and from superior playoff performances; apart from that, he’s never been more than a journeyman with mediocre stuff.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Giants and wanted to salvage something from Zito: send him to Rick Peterson.

I don’t care about stepping on pitching coach Dave Righetti‘s toes; I don’t care about the perception that they’d be perpetrating an end-around on the baseball people that have tried to fix Zito and failed. The Giants have a lot of money invested in a pitcher who, at this point, is nearly useless in comparison to a baseline big leaguer.

What do they have to lose? And if there was ever a consideration of dumping him and eating the salary, wouldn’t they be derelict in their duties if they didn’t try that one last Hail Mary and send him to a pitching coach for whom he had his greatest success? Isn’t that better than releasing him because they were concerned about the pride of their staff?

What’s more important?

As for Righetti, he’d get over it. And if he doesn’t? So what?

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