The Pirates Are Where The Astros Hope To Be 3-5 Years From Now

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Reviving a dead franchise doesn’t happen overnight and creating a Frankenstein monster of discarded body parts (AKA players who no one else wants and have to be overpaid to join a perennial loser) while hoping for lightning to strike at just the right moment is random, desperate and doomed to fail. The Pirates of the past two decades were in the same position as the current Astros club multiple times with rebuilds, plans, schemes and different architects. Now the Pirates are winning with their own young players and a low payroll. The Astros are starting over after years of trying to win immediately and neglecting the farm system. Both sides are acting intelligently.

The Pirates have the prospects to get any player they want via trade, but chose to take the conservative route in getting Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros.

The Astros are clearing the decks in preparation for their move to the American League.

Both sides gain from the deal that sent Rodriguez from the Astros to the Pirates for three minor leaguers, lefty pitcher Rudy Owens; lefty pitcher Colton Cain; and outfielder Robbie Grossman. Rodriguez’s contract stipulations and the amount the Astros are paying is below, clipped from this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Rodriguez’s contract pays him $10 million this season and $13 million next year as part of a three-year, $34 million contract he signed before the 2011 season. He has a $13 million club option for 2014 that becomes a player option because he was traded.

According to an industry source, the Pirates are responsible for $1.7 million of Rodriguez’s remaining salary in 2012, $8.5 million in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014. The Pirates only receive cash from the Astros in 2014 if Rodriguez exercises his option.

Rodriguez has long been underrated, is durable, and throws strikes.

In addition to the Rodriguez move, the Pirates are recalling top outfield prospect Starling Marte. It’s doubtful that they’re doing it to showcase him for a trade as other clubs would; the Pirates let their prospects play and it appears as if they’re saying that they’re going to win with their youngsters and a financially sensible plan rather than deal them for veterans, increase the payroll and commit to older players. It’s simplistic to say, “Get ‘X’ veteran star and a young team on the way up will automatically be a contender,” but it doesn’t work that way. The Pirates have turned the corner, in part, because this group was allowed to develop together and there are no star divas in the clubhouse to interfere with manager Clint Hurdle’s discipline. I’d be hesitant to mess with the chemistry by importing a star. Rodriguez is not a star, but he’s pretty good and he’ll benefit from the Pirates vast home park and good defense.

For the Astros, the criticism of Jeff Luhnow sounds similar to the grumpy and idiotic ranting of the crotchety old men who wouldn’t understand OPS if it was mixed in their Metamucil as they scoffed and ridiculed the Astros’ hiring of “non” baseball people Sig Mejdal and Stephanie Wilka to be integral parts of his front office. Luhnow partially invites the eye-rolling with the new age titles such as “Director of Decision Sciences” for his hires and his over-technical manner of speaking as if to say, “These are complicated matters,” when they’re really not all that complicated. But none of that matters once the decisions start being made and the Astros are making the right decisions. Are they supposed to spend money on mediocre veteran players to win 70 games when, by the end of this season and next, it’s going to do more damage to the organization?

They’re moving to the American League West in 2013 to a division with the Rangers, Angels, resurgent Athletics and a Mariners organization flush with young pitching. It makes zero sense to keep or acquire veterans now. As for the suggestion that the Astros are getting middling prospects for their veterans, what were they supposed to get? Their system was barren when Luhnow arrived and he’s stocking it with volume and players he might be able to use. He’s slashing players with high salaries like Rodriguez, Carlos Lee and Brett Myers who aren’t going to be with the team if and when they turn the corner into contention. He’s doing the smart thing.

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No Beer Make Red Sox Something Something

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The Red Sox have banned alcoholic beverages—including their precious beer—in the clubhouse and for the final flight on road trips for the coming season.

Read the story here—Sporting News link.

This is in response to the reports from last season of starting pitchers who weren’t working that day hanging around the clubhouse and drinking during games rather than being on the bench supporting their teammates.

There are some who say that camaraderie is enhanced by players hanging out together and having a beer, but one of the main reasons the Red Sox were said to have come apart was the disinterest on the part of those who were supposedly in the clubhouse drinking.

They’re adults, but they’re also there to work. There’s no reason for them to be drinking beer at their workplace, athletes or not.

Former manager Terry Francona was given something of a pass for the way the team collapsed. Supposedly it was a byproduct of veteran behaviors about which he could do nothing.

It’s a flimsy excuse.

Francona got the credit for the wins, he gets the blame for the losses and whether the wins stem from front office intelligence and star power and the losses from disciplinary issues and lack of fundamentals is irrelevant. He was in charge, everything stops with him.

Now Bobby Valentine is in charge and, with support and likely prodding from the front office, has banned beer.

Does it matter?

If the Red Sox are playing well and as a cohesive unit, the banning of beer will be seen as a significant flashpoint in Valentine’s taking of the reins from Francona and consciously deciding that he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes as his predecessor. If they’re not playing well, the tightness of the rules and treatment of the players like naughty children will be cited as the problem.

In reality, the Red Sox success or failure will be determined on the field. The beer drinking in the clubhouse didn’t start during their slide; they were probably doing it all along and got away with it because they were winning and that Francona was too laid back. It became an excuse and if Francona saw what was going on and failed to stop it, it’s a blot on him as well as the Red Sox players who partook in it.

The bully in the room, Josh Beckett, is the one that has to be watched. Already he’s deflecting responsibility for what happened and, as is his nature, is going to test Valentine every chance he gets to try and gain control of the relationship. How that manifests itself and how Valentine responds will be the twin indicators of the Valentine tenure. Maybe Beckett will buy in; maybe he’ll build a still in the trainer’s room like Hawkeye in M*A*S*H.

Contrary to popular belief, the beer drinking wasn’t the cause of the Red Sox stumble and its banishment won’t be the impetus of a comeback.

They have to pitch and play better. Had they done that, Valentine wouldn’t be their manager; Francona wouldn’t be in an ESPN booth; Theo Epstein wouldn’t be running the Cubs; and this whole story wouldn’t be a running joke that the Red Sox are bad boys who had their beer confiscated.

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Jeff Luhnow’s Petri Dish and The Sporting News Misogynist

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Apart from getting webhits for saying something stupidly controversial and drawing the ire of, well, everyone, I’m not sure as to the purpose of this Stan McNeal Sporting News piece about new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow filling out his front office with like-minded people who adhere to stats above all else.

Whether Luhnow’s way is going to work or not is a matter of conjecture. It’s a petri dish of statistical thought and implementation that hasn’t truly been tried before.

J.P. Ricciardi took Moneyball to its logical conclusion by mostly following the book’s tenets to the letter and his results were up-and-down; Paul DePodesta used stats and a total disregard for humanity to destroy the Dodgers and was fired after 20 months; the Rays altered the plot and used a load of high draft picks, fearlessness, intelligence in both old and new school techniques to build a team that made the playoffs in three of the past four years without any money and a rotten ballpark, but no one has done what Luhnow is clearly going to do and has had the time to see if it can succeed.

The posting linked is intentionally offensive and I don’t understand why someone who believes differently would attack his opponent like that. But it’s his column and the Sporting News that has to answer for one of their writers posting it; it’ll resolve itself.

As for the Astros hirings, are you now starting to see why Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa viewed Luhnow with jaundiced eyes and were threatened by his presence when he joined the Cardinals? He had the ear of the owner and was coming at baseball decisions from a foreign train of thought diametrically opposed to what they were accustomed to; add in that Jocketty and LaRussa were men with credentials being forced to adhere to a new blueprint and it wasn’t because what they were doing wasn’t working—they’d won doing it their way. Both men could’ve left the Cardinals and would’ve had their choices of jobs immediately.

It’s no wonder the situation got so messy that Jocketty was fired and LaRussa had to resort to sharp-elbowed infighting to get his way.

Is this Luhnow’s fault?

No.

The situation was difficult and the Cardinals fought through the dysfunctional factions and still won.

Now Luhnow’s off on his own and is receiving free rein from the Astros new owner Jim Crane.

“Director of Decision Sciences” is a pompous and ridiculous title for a job anywhere—not just in baseball—but Sig Mejdal fits into what Luhnow wants to create. McNeal calling Stephanie Wilka a “cheerleader” as the lead to her impressive resume and education is idiotic, plain and simple.

If the Astros become a success, the overwhelming probability is that it won’t specifically be because of Luhnow’s stat based theories nor the people he’s hired, but because they’re going to have the number 1 pick in the draft in 2012; they’ll probably have the number 1, 2 or 3 pick in 2013; and are a good bet to be picking that high in 2014 as well.

High draft picks are an equalizer to lots of mistakes as long as Luhnow and his people don’t get too clever.

And they might.

We don’t know.

This is actually a circumstance where I’d dearly love to see draft picks available for trade. What would Luhnow do? Would he pull a Jimmy Johnson NFL move and package the top pick for a series of lower round choices and try to re-stock the organization? Is there a consensus number one pick a la Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in 2012? MLB is missing a golden opportunity to make the draft irresistibly attractive for something other than hype and manufactured stories about players we’ve never heard of and will likely never see in the big leagues.

Luhnow’s ridiculed predecessor as Astros’ GM, Ed Wade, also gave the club a few pieces upon which to build with Brett Wallace, Jonathan Singleton and J.A. Happ. It’s not much for what’s essentially an expansion team, but it’s something.

The problem the Astros and Luhnow have is that everyone is looking for undervalued talent and using the same numbers to find it. How can you find undervalued talent if there’s nothing left to undervalue?

You can’t.

In the coming years, we’re going to see the end result of the stat-based building of a team from scratch by a front office comprised of baseball outsiders crunching numbers. Doing what McNeal did and issuing misogynistic and ignorant proclamations in the guise of “news” and “analysis” is not forwarding the argument for those who, like me, don’t believe that Luhnow’s way is going to work.

McNeal’s not making a case based on anything. He wanted attention and he got it. It’s not a good way to go about getting it and presumably, he’ll pay the price for being a fool. And he’ll deserve it.

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