The Giancarlo Stanton-Mets Talk

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It was reported this week that the Mets are “monitoring” Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and that it’s not just talk, but there’s some “heat” there.

Far be it from me to be cynical, but the Mets and just about everyone else are “monitoring” Stanton to see if the woeful Marlins will make him available and the implied “heat” is due more in part to the combustion created from rubbing a load of crud together and hoping to start a fire. The truth is that while the Mets could use Stanton and the Marlins would absolutely listen to offers for him, there’s not a fit between the clubs with the potential offer of Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler.

Let’s see why.

For the Mets

The Mets absolutely need a legitimate, mid-lineup, outfield power bat and Stanton is a 23-year-old near clone of Dave Winfield. Should they be interested in acquiring him? Absolutely. Should they trade one of baseball’s top catching prospects to do it when they don’t have any other catching prospects of note and the market is notoriously thin in signing or trading for them? Should they trade one of baseball’s brightest pitching prospects when they need pitching and one with Wheeler’s minimum potential will cost $100 million and maximum potential will cost $200 million?

No on both counts.

It would be a typical Mets thing to do if they look at what John Buck has done in his two weeks with the team as he’s leading the majors in homers and RBI and think they’ve “found” their catcher for the future by consciously ignoring what he’s been for almost 1,000 big league games. One of the reasons Sandy Alderson was hired is because he’s not going to do “old Mets” things and he won’t in this case either.

Buck is good with the pitchers behind the plate, is a club leader, and has pop. They could live with him as their starter, but d’Arnaud could be an All-Star. In addition, if Buck is still hitting and the club is out of contention at mid-season, it would betray everything they’ve tried to do in rebuilding over the past three years to hold onto him if a team makes a solid offer for him.

Regarding Wheeler, the Mets were referenced as if they had a pitching surplus this past winter which flew out the window when Johan Santana was lost for the year and Shaun Marcum got hurt. It’s not easy to find pitchers and it’s certainly not easy to find ace-quality pitchers, which is the consensus of what Wheeler can be. If they trade Wheeler and d’Arnaud for Stanton, they fill the outfield hole for the next decade, but they’ll still need a starting pitcher and a catcher, making it a wash.

For the Marlins

With a player like Stanton, the Marlins wouldn’t be out of line to ask for five players in exchange with the return including three blue-chip prospects and two good ones. Here’s why:

  • He’s 23
  • He’s not going to be a free agent until after 2016
  • He’s a 40-homer man who can play good defense
  • He’s a marketable face and a star who’ll sell tickets in a baseball-friendly town

What possible reason would the Marlins have to give him to the Mets for two still-uproven prospects so early in Stanton’s career when he’s not making any money and there’s the chance that another team will offer more between now and next winter when he’s initially eligible for arbitration? In spite of the supposed unhappiness of Stanton, I believe there’s a chance the Marlins will sign him to a long-term deal.

Teams can call and ask for Stanton. The Marlins will listen. They’re not going to jump at an offer like d’Arnaud and Wheeler when they can get two similar top prospects with another prospect or two thrown in or sign Stanton long-term.

In theory, it’s an idea for the Mets to think long and hard about and for the Marlins to give brief consideration to, but it doesn’t appear to have basis in actually being discussed with any seriousness. It sounds like speculation on the part of the media and a headline sparked by that speculation. It’s not going to happen and judging from the positions and needs for both clubs, it shouldn’t.

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. Check it out and read a sample.

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Mets Signing of Marcum Linked to Other Moves and Issues

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The timing of the Mets’ decision to sign Shaun Marcum to a 1-year contract coincides with Scott Hairston signing a 2-year contact with the Cubs, so perhaps the Mets were waiting until Hairston made his decision before allocating the Hairston money elsewhere. By that logic, the currently undisclosed salary that Marcum is getting should be around $2-3 million plus incentives.

Let’s not make this out to be more than it is. Marcum is a decent mid-to-back rotation starter who has had multiple injury problems in his career. He had shoulder soreness before the 2012 season and missed two months during the season with an elbow problem. He also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009, costing him the entire season. He’s surpassed 195 innings twice in his career in 2010 and 2011. The Mets aren’t expecting him to turn into a horse with 220 innings pitched in 2013. Marcum’s splits on ground balls/fly balls are about even—link—and he relies heavily on a changeup, a slider and command of his cutter. He doesn’t throw hard and never has, but velocity isn’t as important to a pitcher like Marcum as long as his changeup is working and he’s locating well. He won’t surrender a lot of homers at Citi Field. Three-quarters of the Mets’ infield defense is solid; the outfield defense as it currently stands could present challenges for Marcum.

For the Mets, this is a multiply-pronged decision and a wise one. No one can say what they’ll get out of Johan Santana or Dillon Gee rebounding from injuries. The rookie Matt Harvey probably won’t be pushed much further than a maximum of 180-185 innings. If Zack Wheeler is recalled, it won’t be until mid-season. Marcum gives the team needed rotation depth.

The Mets are currently weighing what it’s worth to sign Michael Bourn in exchange for a large chunk of long-term cash and the 11th pick in the first round of the June draft.

When looking at Bourn, several of the same reasons the Mets didn’t want to sign Jose Reyes to a long-term deal apply. Bourn is a speed player who turned 30 in December. Once he begins to lose his speed and defensive range, what good will he do? On the other hand, he’s not injury prone as Reyes was and the Mets had a ready-made replacement for him at shortstop with Ruben Tejada, plus their financial situation is far better now than it was when they plainly and simply couldn’t afford to keep Reyes even if they wanted to. Their center field options are limited to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill and Matt Den Dekker. The club has to look at the upcoming draft and determine which would be more useful, Bourn or the draft pick.

Marcum is a solid signing for the club in the moment, but it’s also heavily connected to decisions yet to be made. Getting him makes it easier to pull the trigger on other moves in the coming weeks.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—National League

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Yesterday I predicted where various available American League players would wind up (or if they won’t be traded at all). Now let’s have a look at the National League. Bear one thing in mind: the irony shouldn’t be lost on you that Brett Myers was traded from the Astros to the White Sox and the “insiders” and rumormongering schlock sites had no inkling that Myers was even on the White Sox’ radar. They don’t have any more viable information than you or I do and are either making things up or working hand-in-hand with organizations and one another to wag the dog and accumulate webhits, attention and increase advertising rates.

Know what you’re reading and determine credibility based on logic and intelligence, not a circular reputation based on a shoddy foundation.

New York Mets

Ike Davis, 1B—He hasn’t been rumored anywhere that I’ve seen, but if they can move Davis as part of a deal for Justin Upton, it has to be explored. Davis has power, is a good fielder and his teammates love him, but he strikes out way too much; is streaky; and has a growing negative reputation with the umpires as a whiner. If he thinks the whining is going to get him close calls, he’s sorely mistaken. He won’t be traded in-season; in the off-season, the Mets will listen.

Daniel Murphy, 2B/1B/3B—He can hit and does have the ability to hit the ball out of the park 10-15 times a year in spite of his low power numbers in 2012; his defense at second base has been serviceable and no one works harder, but is he going to be the Mets’ second baseman when they take the next step into contention? If not, they should explore dealing him for pitching help. He’ll go as part of a deal for Huston Street so the Mets can get Jordany Valdespin into the lineup.

Scott Hairston, OF—The talk of trading the likes of R.A. Dickey at his “high value” is ridiculous, but they could get bullpen help for Hairston. I doubt they trade him.

Jason Bay, OF—They could get a similarly bad contract like Chone Figgins and probably money to pay off a worse contract like Vernon Wells. It would be best for everyone, but Bay’s not going anywhere now. They’ll release him after the season.

Miami Marlins

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Nobody wants him and after yesterday’s display of 6 walks in 3.1 innings and his awful pitching of late, when the Marlins start making the inevitable changes, they’ll just release him and make a big show of it as evidence of them “doing something”.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS—They won’t trade Hanley in-season. If they make a move, it’ll be over the winter. Even then, I doubt they’ll pull the trigger. In fact, amid all the talk of a “Marlins sell-off”, they can’t clean out the house halfway into the first season in a new park just because the flawed team they put together hasn’t performed. Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Giancarlo Stanton aren’t going anywhere…for now.

Logan Morrison, LF/1B—LoMo is another matter. He’s too one-dimensional to be this much of an organizational pest. He irritated the club with his tweeting and subversive behaviors and if they’d like to set an example, this is the way to do it.

The Orioles need a bat who can hit the ball out of the park.

Ricky Nolasco, RHP—Nolasco needs a change of scenery and if teams realize the Marlins are moving some pieces after the names that are floating around now are off the board, Nolasco’s a pretty good consolation prize. The Cardinals could use him.

Anibal Sanchez, RHP—Another former Red Sox’ farmhand like Ramirez, he’s available and very good when he’s healthy. Back to the Red Sox he goes.

Heath Bell, RHP—Who wants the contract? Who wants him? Nobody and nobody.

Omar Infante, 2B—They won’t trade him.

John Buck, C—Who wants him?

Greg Dobbs, 3B/OF/PH—The Giants need a bat off the bench.

Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels, LHP—They’re going to sign him.

Cliff Lee, LHP—Here’s a flash for the Joel Shermans of the world of which there are far too many: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

Shane Victorino, OF—The Yankees are being pushed to acquire an outfielder they don’t need and are said to have asked about Victorino. He’ll be traded and I say to the Indians.

Ty Wigginton, INF—He’s a Kirk Gibson-type player who’d help the Diamondbacks as a corner infielder and bat off the bench.

Hunter Pence, OF—They’re not trading Pence.

Jimmy Rollins, SS—If they’d like to free up some money for Hamels, they could explore getting rid of Rollins. The Giants like veterans, but Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam yesterday; they demoted Brandon Belt; if the Giants look for a bat, it will be at first base. Nobody’s taking Rollins.

Juan Pierre, OF—The Cardinals could use bench help and speed.

Placido Polanco, INF—Back to the Tigers.

Joe Blanton, RHP—The Orioles need a starter to gobble innings.

Milwaukee Brewers

Zack Greinke, RHP—Greinke won’t sign long-term with the Brewers, but they’re close enough to contention to hang onto him and take the draft pick when he leaves.

Randy Wolf, LHP—Another pitcher who will be on the second tier after the names come off the board. He’ll go to the Dodgers.

Shaun Marcum, RHP—He won’t be traded.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B—Nobody’s taking that contract.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Back to the Angels.

Chicago Cubs

Matt Garza, RHP—The blogosphere went bonkers when Garza was yanked from last night’s game after 3 innings. “Was he traded?” “Where was he traded?”

He wasn’t traded. He had cramping in his triceps.

Unless the Cubs are knocked over, why trade him now? He’s under contract for 2013 and whatever they’d get now, they can get after the season. He’ll stay.

Ryan Dempster, RHP—Don’t buy into the teams that are supposedly “out” on Dempster. He’s a Jim Leyland-type of pitcher and the Tigers need starting pitching.

Starlin Castro, SS—They’ll listen but won’t move him in-season.

Geovany Soto, C—If he’s moved, it will be in the winter.

Bryan LaHair, 1B—With the Giants sending Belt to the minors, they need a bat at first base.

Carlos Marmol, RHP—I don’t know who’d want him. He strikes out a lot of hitters, but walks a lot as well.

Alfonso Soriano, LF/DH—The Cubs would have to pay off his remaining contract ($36 million for 2013-2014), but what’s the difference at this point? I doubt anyone’s taking him even for free.

Houston Astros

Wandy Rodriguez, LHP—He’s owed up to $26 million for next season with his 2014 option becoming guaranteed with a trade. The Blue Jays need pitching and have money and prospects to deal.

Wesley Wright, LHP—The Rangers need another lefty reliever for the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Justin Upton, RF—They’ve made such an overt display of putting him on the market, they pretty much have to trade him now. The Rays will jump in with a package and hope that the unification of the Justin with his brother B.J. Upton will inspire B.J. to play hard over the second half and perhaps steal another playoff spot.

Stephen Drew, SS—The Braves need a shortstop and Paul Janish ain’t it.

Ryan Roberts, INF/OF—Roberts is a utility player who had a career year in 2011 and the Diamondbacks began to think he’s an everyday player. They’ll keep him and put him back where he belongs as an extra bench man.

San Diego Padres

Chase Headley, 3B—Their demands are high for a controllable player and won’t trade him.

Carlos Quentin, LF—He and the Padres are supposedly nearing a contract extension.

Huston Street, RHP—He’ll go to the Mets.

Luke Gregerson, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Clayton Richard, LHP—They won’t trade him.

Joe Thatcher, LHP—The Indians need another lefty out of the bullpen.

Edinson Volquez, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF—They’d listen but won’t move him. If GM Dan O’Dowd goes to ownership with a deal that’s as big as it would be to trade Fowler and ownership says to hold off, O’Dowd should start getting boxes for his stuff and prepare to clean out his office.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Back to the Indians.

Ramon Hernandez, C—The Rays have interest and that’s where he’ll go.

Jason Giambi, 1B/PH—The Reds need a lefty bat off the bench who can play sparingly at first base until Joey Votto is 100%.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF—More nonsense from Joel Sherman who said recently that the Yankees (shocking coming from Sherman) should go after Gonzalez. He’s not available even to the Yankees who, supposedly, are preordained to be handed whatever they want whether it be Lee, Gonzalez or whoever.

Gonzalez’s not getting dealt.

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National League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty is a buyer and wants to win now. The Reds have what it takes to go far in the playoffs with a deep starting rotation and bullpen and mashers in the middle of their lineup. They’re still in need of a bat at shortstop, third base or in the outfield. The only position where they should consider a long-term solution is third base and that’s where they should make a move on Chase Headley. Jocketty and Padres’ GM Josh Byrnes came together on a mutually advantageous blockbuster last winter when the Reds acquired Mat Latos so they’re able to come to consensus on deals.

Apart from Headley, short-term upgrades in centerfield or at shortstop would be better than more expensive, longer-term options. If the Phillies put Shane Victorino on the block, he’d be a positive addition. At shortstop, Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks is absolutely available. An extra lefty for the bullpen would be of use with Joe Thatcher and Jose Mijares attractive targets.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have to decide whether they’re going for it with a bomb or going for it with short precision passes.

What I mean by that is if they’re going for it with a bomb, then their top prospects Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole would have to be on the table. The “bomb” type players they could acquire would include Justin Upton, Starlin Castro, Giancarlo Stanton or a similar young bat.

A shorter pass would include Drew or Carlos Quentin.

The Pirates are legitimate contenders and do need a bat, but I would not gut the system to get it. Another concern of mine would be messing with team chemistry by trading for a star player who’s going to be with the club longer than for the rest of this season. They’ve charted a course and need to stick to it because it’s working.

St. Louis Cardinals

GM John Mozeliak has proven himself to be aggressive in the fact of overwhelming odds to the point that he was perceived as desperate and delusional at the trading deadline last season when he made his one marketable young player, Colby Rasmus, the centerpiece of the deal that got them Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel.

Will the Cardinals make a similar decision this season? Tony LaRussa is gone and it’s doubtful that Mike Matheny’s voice will elicit the same wearing down effect that LaRussa’s whining and organizational politicking did.

The Cardinals are leading the league in runs scored but should bolster their bench with a Ty Wigginton or Jason Giambi. They need a starting pitcher and have the prospects to get Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. I can’t imagine the Cubs trading Ryan Dempster or anyone else to the Cardinals. For the bullpen, they could look to the Mariners for Brandon League; the Athletics for Grant Balfour; the Padres for Thatcher, Huston Street or former Cardinals’ prospect Luke Gregerson; or the Rockies for Matt Belisle or Rafael Betancourt.

I don’t think the Cardinals are legitimate contenders as currently constructed and will fade without improving the pitching.

Milwaukee Brewers

Mixed signals are coming from Milwaukee. Like the Phillies, they’re waiting and listening. Francisco Rodriguez just replaced the struggling John Axford as closer, but K-Rod is a free agent at the end of the year and would bring back a couple of prospects from a team like the Angels or Rangers. There’s speculation that Greinke is hurt after he was pushed back from his start to “recharge his batteries”—whatever that means. They’re supposedly accepting offers for a free agent they signed last winter, Aramis Ramirez.

I don’t think they know what they are at present.

The problem the Brewers have is that their farm system is essentially gutted and they put everything into winning last season and didn’t. The next two weeks will determine the remainder of 2012, but they have to be open to trading Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, K-Rod, Ramirez and calculate the draft pick compensation they’d get for Greinke in comparison to what teams are offering.

They’re not out of contention…yet. Considering where they’re heading with a rebuild/retool on the way after this season, they might be better off adding a Drew, Victorino or Bryan LaHair rather than clean house.

Chicago Cubs

Everything must go.

They’ve denied it, but I think they will absolutely be willing to trade Castro. When the manager of the team, Dale Sveum, has to bench a player and have that player sit next to him to explain why things are happening on the field and quiz him about where he should be in certain situations and what he should be doing, he’s not a Theo Epstein-type of self-starter who plays the game correctly. Castro’s extremely talented, accumulates hits and makes a sparkling play here and there, but he’s not good.

Matt Garza doesn’t have to be traded and that makes him more valuable since he’s under team control through 2013. Dempster’s getting traded; LaHair might get traded; if he was hitting, Geovany Soto would be in heavier demand than he is and might get traded anyway. They should do whatever they can to get rid of Alfonso Soriano and if that means accepting the sunk cost of his contract and paying him off, so be it. Someone might be willing to take a chance that a change of scenery would help the strikeout/walk-machine, on-again/off-again closer Carlos Marmol.

Houston Astros

GM Jeff Luhnow got a couple of useful pieces for Carlos Lee. They were willing to listen on Jed Lowrie, but Lowrie’s hurt. Brett Myers is marketable as is Brandon Lyon. Wesley Wright will be in play as a lefty reliever. The opinions on Wandy Rodriguez are varied and vast. I’ve always liked him and think he’d be a good addition to a team with a solid defense and playing in a park where it’s not easy to hit home runs like the Mets, Angels, Dodgers and Marlins.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Zack Greinke

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Name: Zack Greinke—Milwaukee Brewers

Tale of the tape: Right-handed pitcher; 28-years-old (29 in October); 6’2”, 200 lbs.

Contract status: $13.5 million in 2012. Free agent after the season.

Would the Brewers trade him?

They’re not going to be able to sign him, but there’s a difference between would they trade him and will they trade him.

There’s an undertone that Greinke is definitely going to be traded because the Brewers are floundering and are unlikely to climb back into contention.

They’re 34-41 and in 4th place in the NL Central. But they’re 7 1/2 games out of first place behind the Reds and 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead.

The Reds are a good team but not so good that the Brewers should forget about a possible comeback in the division. There are two Wild Cards available and throwing in the towel before it’s absolutely necessary is a questionable decision.

If they fade out by the end of July with a double-digit deficit in the division and are 8 or so games out of the Wild Card and—more importantly—have not played well enough to justify holding out, they should trade Greinke.

Greinke is one of the top pitchers in baseball with a feel for pitching that is quite rare. He’s able to accelerate his fastball when he needs to and his control is impeccable with both his fastball and his off-speed stuff. He’s a pure ace in his prime and if he’s available teams would be remiss by not exploring his cost.

What would they want for him?

The new CBA has taken away the draft pick compensation for a team that acquires a pending free agent player at mid-season. Unless a club thinks that the player is the final piece of their puzzle and his acquisition will put them in a position to win the World Series, it may not be worth it to gut the system or even give up a top prospect to get the player.

The Brewers are not only losing Greinke after this season but Shaun Marcum is a free agent as well and Randy Wolf has a $10 million contract option for 2013 and is going to be 36 in August. Wolf’s pitched better than his record, but it won’t make sense to pick up the option if the Brewers are beginning a rebuild.

Their farm system is largely gutted. They need volume at the minor league level and pitching prospects. GM Doug Melvin is experienced and will dangle Greinke out there to maximize his value. They would get a couple of good prospects for Greinke. In retrospect the Brewers didn’t give up much to get Greinke so they’ll be able to recoup what they gave and get a bit more back after having the pitcher for a season-and-a-half.

Which teams would pursue him?

Greinke is a bad fit for either New York team and probably Philadelphia and Boston.

That won’t stop any of those teams from going after him and maybe he’ll surprise those who think he’s not mentally tough enough to handle the big stage.

Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman has said he doesn’t foresee pursuing anything of the high-end quality of Greinke, but the absence of Andy Pettitte and disabled list stint for CC Sabathia—no matter how short-term it supposedly is—has to give them pause for October and will force them to ask about Greinke.

The Orioles will be after him; the Tigers, White Sox, Indians and even the Royals might be involved.

The Royals are labeled as sellers with Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and even Billy Butler being mentioned, but they’re 5 games out of first place in the mediocre AL Central and are 31-25 after their atrocious 3-14 start. Why should they sell?

The Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Dodgers and Diamondbacks are in this drama too.

What will happen?

The window for the Brewers was narrow. If they were going to win with this group it had to be in 2011. They lost in the NLCS; Prince Fielder departed as a free agent; they tried to patch it together to replace him and it hasn’t worked.

Now they have to start over again.

Given their injuries and as poorly as they’ve played up to now, I can’t imagine a miraculous comeback for this configuration. Greinke’s going to get traded and my guess is that he winds up with the Braves.

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Time Is Running Out Fast On The Brewers

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By itself the Brewers’ loss of first baseman Mat Gamel to a torn ACL isn’t all that catastrophic.

Gamel wasn’t exactly taking advantage of his opportunity to play every day (again) after the free agent loss of Prince Fielder. With a slash line of .246/.293/.348, 1 home run and mediocre defense, it shouldn’t be that hard to replace Gamel.

But if you read this piece from Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Brewers intend to replace Gamel with veteran journeyman Travis Ishikawa.

Ishikawa’s slash line is .172/.226/.414.

That’s not going to cut it.

The Brewers’ best maneuver (one they’re considering) would be to shift Corey Hart to first base—where he’d done some spring work—and use a combination in right and centerfield of Carlos Gomez, Nyjer Morgan and Norichika Aoki.

Eventually I’m sure that’s the final conclusion they’ll come to.

The Brewers had hoped that their pitching would remain a strong suit. A deep and impressive starting rotation backed up by two legitimate closers should keep any team competitive whether they lose a basher like Fielder or not. They signed Aramis Ramirez to pick up some of the slack, but Ramirez is a notorious slow starter and has gotten out of the gate poorly. When the weather heats up, in general, so does Ramirez.

Ryan Braun has quietly gotten off to a good start with 7 homers and a .942 OPS and quieted the PED controversy from the off-season.

But the Brewers don’t have much time to get themselves together. They’re a win-now team with important pieces—Zack Greinke, Francisco Rodriguez and Shaun Marcum—set for free agency after the season.

For a mid-market team with a tiny window, the Brewers got to the precipice in 2011 and fell short. They took steps to make another run, but fate has stepped in with a vengeance.

If they don’t get themselves together soon, GM Doug Melvin needs to seriously consider putting the word out that he’s willing to listen to offers on the above-mentioned pending free agents. K-Rod would be an asset to a contender—perhaps back where he began his career with the Angels. Marcum is a solid mid-rotation starter. Greinke is a star whom the Brewers are unlikely to be able to keep.

They gutted their system and made their moves for 2011 and lost in the NLCS. Now it may be time to set a date (around mid-late-June) and make a move in the direction of reality and accept that they need to get what they can for the players they won’t have much longer and look toward 2013 and beyond.

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Shifting The Moneyball Goalposts Yet Again

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As much as Moneyball tried to paint the picture that “this is the way to build your team and if you ignore it you’re an idiot”—and succeeded to some degree—it was never the “way” to build a team. It was a strategy borne out of necessity and opportunity.

In fact, Billy Beane is not, nor was he ever, a “genius”. What he did took nerve, but that nerve stemmed from being locked in the vacancy of having limited funds and competing against teams that were raiding his cupboard on a year-to-year basis.

The truth is becoming more mainstream with articles such as this one in today’s New York Times discussing how smaller markets have grown smarter and therefore more competitive.

Are they getting smarter?

Possibly.

Are they more competitive?

Definitely.

Is there a connection to Moneyball?

Um. No. Not really.

Considering the teams remaining in the playoffs, you have one that connected on a deep strike to try and win this year while they still had a mid-lineup combination among the best in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The Brewers brought in a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke; a solid mid-rotation starter in Shaun Marcum; and traded for an All-Star closer to function as their set-up man in Francisco Rodriguez. As a result of this, they’re in the NLCS under a moderate budget. But their farm system is gutted and once Fielder and K-Rod leave, they’re going to be hard-pressed to repeat this success. As long as Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are healthy, they’ll still be competitive, but this good and able to cover up flaws like an atrocious defense that cost them dearly last night? To protect a vanilla manager who does bizarre things? It’s hard to see.

The Cardinals have the best manager of his generation in Tony LaRussa and made a series of “win now” maneuvers signing Lance Berkman and trading Colby Rasmus for ancillary, depth pieces to augment LaRussa’s frequent bullpen usage. They also benefited from a superior Braves team collapsing and allowing them the opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Tigers are a big money team that spent lavishly on a set-up man in Joaquin Benoit and made smart deals in getting Doug Fister and Delmon Young at mid-season for basically nothing. But without one of the three best pitchers and hitters in baseball—Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera—they’d be golfing now.

The Rangers were built by a young GM in the Moneyball mold of someone who’d never played but was well-versed in statistics. It took awhile for Jon Daniels to gain footing and he survived making one of the worst trades in baseball history in sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton; but since then he made some trades that were absolutely brilliant by raiding the Braves farm system for Neftali FelizElvis Andrus and Matt Harrison when they traded Mark Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he was up for free agency. That took nerve, but it was only possible because the Rangers weren’t contending and in desperate financial straits to the point where they could ignore fan entreaties to keep their star. Now that they’re in better condition financially, they’ve been able to use a loaded farm system to acquire a Cliff Lee in 2010 and the numerous bullpen components that have brought them to the verge of a second straight pennant.

It all goes in cycles.

Moneyball was trendy because it was a neat story of a triumph over adversity for a “can’t miss” superstar who transferred his inability to fulfill that promise on the field, but became a star off the field.

The problem was that what Beane did was more gutsy than smart. He’s an actor. And his new role is that of the boxed-in everyman; the excuses are that everyone else is using his template and doing so with more money than he has and his antiquated ballpark has made it impossible to draw fans and attract marquee free agents. But if he’s a genius, shouldn’t he figure something else out?

It’s laughable that Beane was politicking for and openly wanted the Cubs GM job and they didn’t even ask to interview him, instead focusing on and apparently getting Theo Epstein.

Like the X-Files, the truth is out there and those who aren’t invested in the concept of “Beane as genius” are seeing it and shunning him or at least questioning the portrayal.

The dismissive way in which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis discusses the Rays (“they have investment bankers running it and have been lucky in the draft”) is exactly the same argument that people used to contradict his salable and practically ridiculous narrative of Moneyball. I’m wondering whether he sees that or is blocking out this reality in a psychiatrist’s dream case of egomania.

Beane’s persona-switch from hard-charging, ruthless, corporate monster to happy-go-lucky, shrugging man of the people who’s trapped where he is in a system that’s swallowed him up doesn’t explain away a series of horrible trades and drafts. But that doesn’t fit into the story.

There is no one way to build a successful team—a team that’s going to win the World Series. The 2011 storyline is that the big money clubs, rife with superstars and recognizable names, all got bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely due to humiliating collapses. Next year it might be the opposite; or it could be something different entirely; or the same thing.

But the mythmakers will look for an angle, even if they have to conjure one from nothing just like Moneyball. And just like the moving the goalposts of Moneyball, it’s a desperate act that’s still occurring as we speak.

The public and media are beginning to see it.

Finally.

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The Brewers Had Better Win This Year

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I’d scarcely remembered hearing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke talk before last night’s NLCS game 2 between the Cardinals and Brewers.

Now I know why.

During his in-game interview on TBS, it became crystal clear why the Brewers on-field behaviors are so out-of-control that they’ve become despised throughout the league.

Apart from Brewers (and presumably Cubs) fans, everyone wants to see them lose to a Cardinals team that, prior to this series, wasn’t exactly a contender for Miss Congeniality.

Tony LaRussa clubs aren’t well-liked because they play old-school and on the edge—they’re not out there to make friends; they’re out there to beat you. The Brewers are reviled because they think they’re better than they are; they behave as if they’ve won 5 championships; and are so overt in their celebrations that their arrogance is palpable.

On the Brewers roster are three players who have championship rings: Francisco Rodriguez, Craig Counsell and Jerry Hairston Jr.

One self-interested pitcher—whose reputation isn’t sterling in any context—and two utility players.

I doubt their voices carry much weight—literally or figuratively—in that clubhouse.

The player with the weight, Prince Fielder, is running things and he’s a sullen, mercurial individual who has come through for his club, but is also the one who has to be viewed as the catalyst for the Brewers act.

Nyjer Morgan can be referenced as the “attitude” behind the Brewers, but it all stems from Fielder. If he told Morgan to tone it down, Morgan would tone it down.

Roenicke is so soft-spoken and understated that the only way to judge him is the way his team behaves. There are managers who don’t say much in the Gil Hodges tradition, but players know not to muck with them and are aware that the manager is in charge.

Roenicke is just sort of there in the Bob Brenly scope of a manager hired not to screw it up. And he hasn’t. Yet.

He had a resume of managing in the minors and was on a well-respected coaching staff for a strong-handed manager Mike Scioscia.

But Scioscia’s teams don’t disrespect their opponents and the game the way these Brewers do.

They can defend “The Beast” silliness in which they raise their arms when they do….whatever; say that it’s all in good fun. But it’s offensive; and what makes it worse is that these players have accomplished absolutely nothing to warrant it. There are teams that expect to win and behave appropriately when they do; and there are teams for whom circumstances have coalesced into a perfect storm so their results are better than the reality.

The Brewers loaded up on starting pitching with Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke joining Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf; they brought in an All Star closer in K-Rod to set-up for John Axford; their two main bashers Ryan Braun and Fielder have carried them beyond a terrible defense and top-heavy lineup.

Teams like this can win with a weak manager, but they’re not in it for the long haul because Fielder’s not coming back after this season and once the novelty wears off and they need discipline, Roenicke isn’t going to be able to provide it.

The potential championship is worth the compromises they’ve made. But they’d better get that championship this year because it’s the only chance this group is going to have.

All of baseball is watching.

And rooting against them.

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NLCS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers

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St. Louis Cardinals (90-72; 2nd place, NL Central; won Wild Card; defeated Philadelphia Phillies in NLDS 3 games to 2) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central; defeated Arizona Diamondbacks in NLDS 3 games to 2).

Keys for the Cardinals: shut the Brewers up early; get depth from their starters; wait for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to make a mistake and capitalize; maintain their composure.

For a team that’s never won anything, the Brewers have an awful lot to say. There are two ways to handle that: don’t respond to it and respond on the field; or retaliate with similar trash-talk and/or by popping someone.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is simmering and seething at the way the Brewers are talking about his players, notably Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, but he’s going to specifically tell his players not to engage and to do their talking with their play. They have to adhere to the mandate.

Jaime Garcia has done well against all the Brewers hitters; Casey McGehee is 5 for 17 vs Garcia so presumably he’ll be back in the lineup.

Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder have hammered Carpenter, but yapping at a fiery competitor and one of the best pitchers in baseball isn’t simply stupid, it’s adding fuel to a fire that didn’t exactly need to be stoked.

Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Jerry Hairston and Weeks all bash Edwin Jackson; McGehee has 3 career hits off of him and all are home runs; expect to see Hairston at shortstop and McGehee at third in game 2. If anyone’s going to retaliate against the Brewers with a brushback (or one between the shoulder blades), it’ll be Jackson.

Roenicke doesn’t seem to have control of his players—something he should’ve learned from his years working for Mike Scioscia with the Angels—and it could be a big problem; he’s made some bizarre, small-ball calls (similar to Scioscia) with his players this season and LaRussa is smart enough to sit back and wait for the mistake, then strike.

The Cardinals can’t let Morgan and the ridiculous “Beast” nonsense—an arms raised, “GRAAARRRR” thing the Brewers do whenever they get a hit—get to them. It won’t be easy, but if they want to win, they have to do it.

Keys for the Brewers: put their performance where their mouths are; get baserunners in front of Fielder and Ryan Braun; hand the ball from the starters to the set-up man/closer; mitigate Pujols.

The Brewers had better put up or shut up. But they’re the type of group that, even if they lose the first two game and look awful, they’ll talk more.

The problem with taking the personality lead from Morgan is that it’s eventually going to catch up to you if you pull it with the wrong people. The Cardinals are those types of people.

Even Zack Greinke has a is talking now. Greinke’s not someone who’s a talker, but he’s joining in on the fun. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay have all knocked him around; and Pujols is Pujols.

Pujols and Rafael Furcal both kill Yovani Gallardo; we don’t know who the Brewers game 2 starter is for some reason; both Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf were better on the road than they were at home; I’d start Marcum in game 2 because he’s better than Wolf and has less of a history with the Cardinals.

It always comes down to Pujols when playing the Cardinals. He can look terrible for 15 at bats, then wreck the game and series with three straight games of ridiculous lightning shows. And it doesn’t help that the Brewers and “Tony Plush” AKA Morgan chose to denigrate this era’s Joe DiMaggio in terms of performance and, just as importantly, pride.

What will happen.

It’s difficult to tell whether the Brewers bravado is false or if they actually believe it. Probably both.

The Cardinals are old-school; they’re not looking for friends on the field and that starts from their manager all the way through the team. They’re not happy with the way the Brewers disrespected them when the Cardinals looked finished in the playoff race; that September run that led the Cardinals to the playoffs happened in part because the Braves collapsed and in part because they wanted another crack at the Brewers.

They’re getting it.

This is a horrible matchup for the Brewers; in retrospect, they might’ve been better off facing the Phillies and the overwhelming expectations of a team for whom anything short of a World Series win was a failure. The Cardinals are playing with house money, are livid at the Brewers out-of-control mouths and will be determined to shut them up on and off the field.

The Cardinals hold a distinct advantage in managers; have been here—in this exact same position before—and came through.

When they upset the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, the Cardinals made it a point to ridicule the soccer chant that the Mets use(d) to celebrate Jose Reyes; those Mets were perceived as arrogant, but in comparison to these Brewers, they were the most professional, quiet, go-about-their-business group on the history of baseball.

It’s one thing to yap; it’s another thing to yap and disrespect.

The Brewers are writing checks with their mouths that their team’s not going to be able to cash.

And they’re going to be made to pay.

The Cardinals are going to slap a muzzle on them and be doing the Beast in the visiting clubhouse when they bounce the Brewers in 7 games.

PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN SEVEN.

NLCS MVP: ALBERT PUJOLS.

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Arizona Diamondbacks vs Milwaukee Brewers

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Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68; 1st place, NL West) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central)

Keys for the Diamondbacks: Get into the Brewers middle relief; keep the bases clear in front of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder; get depth from their starters; jump out to a lead early in game 1.

The Brewers strength is their starting rotation and their power. The Diamondbacks have been a more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts club; they don’t have an overt “strength” despite the statistically similar pitching staff in comparison to the Brewers.

The Brewers starting pitching is so deep and so good that the Diamondbacks have to get their pitch counts up and hope the Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke jumps the gun either by pinch hitting for his pitchers or pulls them in the middle innings. In the late innings, they’ll have Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford to contend with.

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are both MVP candidates this season; the Brewers offense is top-heavy and limited with Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee occupying two spots in the lineup along with the pitcher; the Diamondbacks have to keep the runners off the bases to either mitigate how much damage Braun and Fielder can do or to pitch around them when necessary.

Ian Kennedy won 21 games and was masterful this season, but in his time with the Yankees he proved to be a pitcher who thought way too much about what he was doing; those types tend to take a pressure situation and use it to formulate ways in which they can make themselves “better” rather than doing what it was that got them to where they are in the first place. If Kennedy gets through the first 3 innings relatively unscathed, he’ll be fine—the Diamondbacks coaching staff has to get it through his over-analytical head that what he’s done all season long has worked and there’s no reason to change it because it’s the playoffs.

Daniel Hudson is still a young pitcher despite winning 16 games and providing over 200 innings in 2011; McGehee is 5 for 5 in his career against Hudson with a double and a homer; Fielder is 2 for 5 with a homer.

Joe Saunders is a control-based lefty who cannot be expected to hold down the Brewers lineup. Braun has 2 homers in 6 at bats vs Saunders. Gibson has to have a quick hook with Saunders.

The Brewers are loud and bullying. They have a lot to say, are overt in their mannerisms and take their cue from Nyjer Morgan and Fielder. They’re not particularly likable and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson isn’t the type to let his players take a lot of junk. If the Diamondbacks jump to an early lead, that will prevent the Brewers from starting with their nonsense.

Keys for the Brewers: Depth from their starters; get the game to K-Rod and Axford; get runners on base in front of Braun and Fielder; lay down the law early with the Diamondbacks young starters.

This is why the Brewers made those drastic maneuvers last winter in getting Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. They have two of the best pitchers in baseball fronting their rotation with Greinke and Gallardo; a very good one in Marcum; and the veteran Randy Wolf. Greinke has never pitched in  the post-season; nor has Marcum. Gallardo pitched 7 solid innings against the Phillies in the 2008 NLDS.

With K-Rod and Axford for the eighth and ninth innings, the Brewers are well-suited to get as many innings as they can from their starters and hand it over to a shutdown bullpen with two quality closers.

Morgan is good at getting on base and wreaking havoc with his legs and his obnoxious personality. With the all-or-nothing spots in their lineup occupied by Yuniesky Betancourt and McGehee, the Brewers have to get production from Braun and Fielder.

The Brewers are frontrunners; if they fall behind the Diamondbacks early, their bullying will be prevented.

Miguel Montero has hammered Greinke, Wolf and Marcum in his career and has to be watched.

What will happen.

The Diamondbacks were not expected to be here and take their cue from their ultra-competitive manager. They have some pop, they don’t strike out as much as they before GM Kevin Towers cleared out some of the wind producers, but they still strike out a lot. They have solid starting pitching, but it’s inexperienced in these types of circumstances; their bullpen isn’t as flashy as the Brewers, but it’s still good.

There will be tension in this series and how that goes might determine the outcome. The Brewers are loud and arrogant. Gibson isn’t going to tolerate that kind of attitude and will tell his players not to let it go by without response. The Brewers will push the Diamondbacks early, the Diamondbacks will push back and tempers will flare.

If Kennedy can get to the middle innings without giving up a crooked number and the Diamondbacks take the first game, they’ll be in great position to win the series. Justin Upton is 3 for 9 in his career vs Gallardo and Lyle Overbay 2 for 3.

If the Diamondbacks are going to win this series, they’ll be better-served to win the first game.

The Brewers infield defense is terrible; it didn’t hurt them during the season, but it will in the playoffs.

Far too impressed with themselves, the Brewers think they’ve accomplished something without actually having accomplished much of anything apart from making angry clubs throughout baseball with their behaviors led by Morgan.

The Diamondbacks functioned under-the-radar all season long and they’ve proven themselves again and again to be a formidable opponent that plays the game the way their manager did—hard.

The Diamondbacks are going to quiet the Brewers quickly and drop them in 4 games.

PREDICTION: DIAMONDBACKS IN FOUR.

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