Fred Wilpon, The Mets, “The” Truth And “A” Truth

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I’m waiting for the inevitable conspiracy theories to morph into absurd leaps of logic. How about something fictional to the tune of, “Jenrry Mejia’s actual identity is Jose Luis Madoff Alvarado and is the product of a love affair between Bernie Madoff and the daughter of a shady business associate in the Dominican Republic 28 years ago,”?

A great fake story can be crafted from Mejia’s current situation to link the ancillary and unconnected drama surrounding the Mets. Reality doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s the story that’s important. Here’s a good plotline: There’s a holdup with Mejia getting his visa to report to spring training. Other players have used fake names to get signed. The Mets were involved heavily with Bernie Madoff. Fred Wilpon is a pathological liar and/or a delusional elderly man—the pieces fit!!!

Except they don’t.

With Wilpon’s press session yesterday inviting agenda-laden questioning of his personal finances in relation to the Mets, the story has legs for a few days. Bolstered by the club’s continued lack of spending, Wilpon’s statement that the financial problems are subsiding and GM Sandy Alderson is free to spend money if he deems it appropriate is inviting eyebrow-raised glances and “yeah, buts”—NY Times Story.

Is the decision to again stay out of the free agent market linked to financial limitations or are they adhering to a plan to clear the decks of dead contracts, rebuild through the draft to put in place a strong foundation, and buy pieces to fill needs rather than create splashy headlines? Does it matter? Do we need answers?

Regardless of the “why,” this is what they’re doing. The strategy is highlighted in the aftermath of the Mets deciding not to give Michael Bourn a fifth year option while simultaneously surrendering the 11th pick in the draft to get a pretty good player and placate an angry fanbase, possibly severely hindering the future—sort of what the Mets did for years under Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya—and wallowing in the mess they were in for most of the previous decade-plus.

Signing Bourn would have been a mirror image of mortgaging the future for the present and doing so in a manner that would reverberate for years to come. Bourn was not worth the 11th pick in the draft. If Bourn were in the draft now, he wouldn’t be picked that high. When he was drafted by the Phillies in 2003, it wasn’t until the fourth round, so the Mets were supposed to willingly give up that high a pick in a spot where Andrew McCutchen and Max Scherzer were selected?

The Mets could use Bourn, but not at that price especially with Jacoby Ellsbury set to be a free agent after the 2013 season and Shin-Soo Choo also to be available.

I’m not a defender of the Wilpons. I don’t see how it’s possible that they didn’t realize there was something fishy with the Madoff returns. If the money kept rolling in, why ask questions you don’t want the answer to? Did they suspect? They must have. Did they want to know the answer if they asked? Definitely not. But these half-baked predictions of the Wilpon demise—presented by self-styled soothsayers using partial truths hidden under the pretense of research, extrapolations and an end in mind to foresee a cloudy future—have been consistently wrong.

There wasn’t supposed to be a settlement in the Picard lawsuit. There was.

They weren’t supposed to maintain control of the team. They did.

They would be forced into bankruptcy. They weren’t.

They couldn’t afford to keep David Wright. He’s a Met for the next decade.

How many times are we going to have ironclad statements of what “will” happen be wrong before stepping back and accepting that regardless of intentional ambiguity in what’s said, the Wilpons are going nowhere and the Mets’ finances do indicate that they’ll be able to spend on players in the coming year.

This constant digging for evidence against the Wilpons is similar to rehashing the O.J. Simpson murder trial or the Kennedy assassination. It’s over. No one’s going to be prosecuted; no crime will be proved; and the investigation has ended. Independent to irrelevant facts or fiction, the Mets will have money to spend on better free agents than Bourn after this season; they’ve accumulated young pitching talent they haven’t had since the 1980s; and they’ve done precisely what Alderson set out to do in the first three years of the rebuild.

Wilpon’s meeting with the media presents an opportunity to revive a meaningless past and allows the aforementioned investigative reporters and analysts to twist what he says into a new attempt to be retrospectively “right.” But “right” is in the eye of the beholder.

Are the Mets not spending or are they not spending stupidly? There’s a fine but important line between the two. No matter how they got to this point, it was for the best. Had they stuck to the road they were on, there would be more bloated contracts for aging players, fewer prospects, and a longer and increasingly difficult path to getting younger and better—if they ever decided to do that at all. The “why” deserves a shrug as a response. Much like the media experts can subtly alter their facts to suit a designed narrative, so can Wilpon. It’s all a matter of point-of-view.

“The” truth will never be fully known. “A” truth is what we have and it varies based on who’s listening.

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Bobby Valentine and Causes of Failure

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The one thing we can take from Bobby Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas from Tuesday on Costas Tonight is that Valentine was set up for failure, so no one should be surprised that he failed.

No one.

From day 1 it was known that the new GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine. It was known that the reputation Valentine carted around with him wasn’t going to let the players give him a chance. It was known that the Red Sox, having collapsed in September of 2011 amid a lack of discipline, disinterest, and lack of cohesion, were on the downslide. How this was going to end was relatively predictable in that it wasn’t going to succeed, but I doubt anyone could have envisioned the Red Sox cleaning out the house of Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—not because they wanted to keep them, but because no one was expected to take them.

Let’s look at the Bobby V statements and implications (paraphrased) and judge them on their merits.

He yelled at Mike Aviles in spring training.

In retrospect, it was called an “ugly” scene, but it sounds like Valentine was speaking loudly and telling the players how he wanted an infield drill handled—directed at Aviles, but for all of them to hear—and the players, accustomed to Terry Francona’s laissez faire attitude and already waiting for something to attack Valentine about, seized on it as a “here we go,” moment.

And if he did yell at Aviles, so what? Is the manager not allowed to yell at the players anymore without having other players come into his office to whine about it? The purpose of bringing in a more disciplined manager is so he can instill discipline that was missing; discipline that was a proximate cause of the downfall of the club in 2011.

Cause of failure: Valentine tried to discipline the players as a manager and they refused to be disciplined.

The coaches undermined Valentine.

I find it at best bizarre and at worst despicable that the Red Sox are allowing new manager John Farrell to have significant say-so in the constitution of his coaching staff and didn’t let Valentine pick the people on his staff.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said the coaches have to speak the manager’s language, but if the coaches—specifically bench coach Tim Bogar and pitching coach Bob McClure—barely knew Valentine and didn’t speak to him (or he to them), then how was it supposed to be functional?

The contentiousness between the manager and his coaches permeated the clubhouse. McClure didn’t want to make the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do and from the start, that was a bad sign of what was to come. Bogar sounds as if he was rolling his eyes and shaking his head behind Valentine’s back from the beginning.

Valentine has something Farrell doesn’t: managerial success in the big leagues. So why is Farrell receiving the courtesy that Valentine didn’t unless Cherington was waiting out the inevitable disaster of Valentine’s tenure knowing his contrariness in the hiring would make him essentially bulletproof if events transpired as they did in the worst case scenario?

Farrell’s qualifications as Red Sox manager are basically that he was the Red Sox pitching coach during their glory years, knows how things are done, isn’t Valentine, and the players like him. If a club was looking at the work Farrell did with the Blue Jays as manager as an individual entity, they would look elsewhere before hiring him and they certainly wouldn’t give up a useful player like Aviles to get him.

Cause of failure: They hired Valentine and handcuffed him.

Management was spying and suffocating.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said that he never received a series of binders (possibly a veiled shot at Joe Girardi) or stat sheets telling him what to do, but that there was one of Cherington’s assistants in the manager’s office before and after every game.

Not even in Moneyball, amid the ridiculous characterization of then-Athletics’ manager Art Howe as a hapless buffoon, was it written that a front office person was in Howe’s office to that degree. One of the issues Valentine had with Mets’ GM Steve Phillips during his tenure in New York was that Phillips was constantly huddling with leaders in the clubhouse like Al Leiter after games; he was also said to stalk around with a grumpy look on his face in what appeared to be an act of an upset GM following a loss.

After the lack of involvement in Valentine picking his coaches; the Aviles incident; the uproar over Valentine’s mostly innocuous comments about Youkilis early in the season; and the front office spying, Valentine should have gone to Larry Lucchino and asked if they wanted him to manage the team or not. The claustrophobic situation of a front office person loitering so constantly in the manager’s office exponentially adds to the stress of a long season. No one—especially someone with Valentine’s experience—needs to have this level of scrutiny from the people he’s working with.

Cause of failure: The factional disputes permeated the running of the club and that segments wanted and expedited Valentine’s downfall.

David Ortiz quit.

Only Ortiz knows if this is true. Valentine would probably have been better off not saying that Ortiz quit because if there’s a chance for him to manage again—and there is—he doesn’t need another, “Well, why’d you say this?” soundbite hanging over his head.

There’s an indignant reaction if it’s implied that the players went through the motions or decided to use an injury to spend time on the disabled list rather than play when they could have. Ortiz had had a brilliant season until he got injured and, with the season spiraling down the toilet and the looming probability of this being his final chance to get paid as a free agent, Ortiz might very well have chosen to shut it down.

What’s ironic about it is that Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia seemed to be two of the few veterans who gave Valentine a chance when the manager was hired, but in true Bobby V fashion, he’s detonating the bridge.

Players think about themselves more often than is realized. It’s easier in baseball than it is in other team sports because in football, basketball, and hockey, no individual can function without the group. In baseball, it’s an individual sport in a team concept. It’s not farfetched that Ortiz just sat out the rest of the season when, if the Red Sox were contending, he would’ve played. Ortiz, Valentine, the Red Sox, and their medical staff know what really happened here. True or not, Valentine shouldn’t have said this.

Cause of failure: Reality that’s generally swept under the rug.

The Valentine hire was a disaster in large part because the Red Sox made it a disaster. That’s not an exoneration of Valentine because a he deserves a large share of the blame, but it wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work. And the small chance it did have of working would’ve included making the drastic trades they made in-season before the season; letting Valentine have a voice in the constitution of his coaching staff; and allowing him to do the job he was hired to do.

None of that happened and these are the results we see. Let’s wait and watch if Farrell does any better, because if he doesn’t then Cherington will learn what it’s like to live in the shoes Valentine did for a miserable year of his life. These things have a habit of solving themselves.

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Managers Traded For Players

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To the best of my research, managers have been traded six times in baseball history. It wasn’t always player for manager and the criticism the Red Sox are receiving for trading infielder Mike Aviles for righty pitcher David Carpenter and the rights to speak to John Farrell is stereotypical and silly. With it only having happened six times, it’s not a large enough sample size to say it’s not going to work. Also, history has proven that if a manager doesn’t work out in other spots, he might in another. Casey Stengel had one winning season (and that was only 2 games over .500) in nine years as a manager with the Braves and Dodgers before going down to the minor leagues between 1944 and 1948 where he had success he’d never had in the big leagues. The Yankees hired him in 1949 and he won 7 championships and 10 pennants in 12 years.

Here are the manager trades.

Jimmy Dykes for Joe Gordon—August 3, 1960

The genesis of this trade was originally a joke between Tigers’ GM Bill DeWitt and Indians’ GM Frank Lane, but as their teams faded they basically said, “Why not?”

Gordon was managing the Indians and Dykes the Tigers when they were traded for one another. Dykes was 63 when the trade was made and had never finished higher than third place while managing the White Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Reds, and Tigers. At the time of the trade, the Tigers record was 44-52 and they were in sixth place in the American League. Gordon’s Indians were 49-46 and in fourth place.

Interestingly, Dykes was the second Philadelphia Athletics manager in their history after Connie Mack was running things from 1901-1950.

Gordon has been popping up as a background performer in other dramas recently. As the debate regarding the American League MVP between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout reached a critical mass in the waning days of the regular season, Cabrera’s Triple Crown was a point of contention as it was stacked up against Trout’s higher WAR, superior defense, and perceived overall larger contribution. The Hall of Famer Gordon won the MVP in 1942 while playing for the Yankees over Ted Williams even though Williams won the Triple Crown. You can read about that and other MVP/Triple Crown controversies here.

Gordon had a contract to manage the Tigers for 1961, but asked for his release and it was granted so he could take over the Kansas City A’s where his former GM with the Indians, Lane, was the new GM under the A’s new owner Charlie Finley.

Do you need a family tree yet?

Gordon had a contract with the A’s through 1962, but was fired with the team at 26-33. He was replaced by Hank Bauer. This was long before anyone knew who or what Finley was. Gordon was only 46 at the time of his firing by the A’s, but only managed again in 1969 with the expansion Kansas City Royals. (Finley had moved the A’s to Oakland in 1968.) Gordon’s 1969 Royals went 69-93 and he stepped down after the season. On that 1969 Royals team was a hotheaded 25-year-old who won Rookie of the Year and was, as a manager, traded for a player—Lou Piniella.

Now you do need a family tree.

Dykes managed the Indians in 1961. They finished in fifth place with a 78-83 record and that was his last season, at age 64, as a big league manager.

Gil Hodges for Bill Denehy and $100,000

The Mets traded the right handed pitcher Denehy to the Senators for the rights to their manager Hodges. Hodges was a New York legend from his days with the Dodgers and, despite his poor record with the Senators (321-444), they had improved incrementally under his watch. The most important quality Hodges had was that the players were afraid of him and he didn’t take a load of crap. That they had a bushel of young pitching including Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan helped as well. That not taking crap facet might help Farrell with the Red Sox if they have the talent to contend—and right now, they don’t.

Chuck Tanner for Manny Sanguillen, November 5, 1976

Here was Charlie Finley again, still owner of the A’s, but with three World Series wins in his pocket and free agency and housecleaning trades decimating his team of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and in the future Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, and others. Finley wasn’t kind to his managers, but he won anyway. When the Yankees tried to hire Dick Williams while Williams was under contract after having resigned from the A’s after the 1973 World Series win, Finley demanded the Yankees top prospects Otto Velez and Scott McGregor. The Yankees hired Bill Virdon instead and then Billy Martin. George Steinbrenner always used his friendly relationship with Williams as a weapon to torment Martin.

I find fascinating the way perceptions cloud reality. Finley was thought to be ruthless and borderline cruel with the way he treated his managers, but he was also a brilliant and innovative marketer who’s rarely gotten the credit for being the shrewd judge of baseball talent he was. On the other hand, an executive like Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils hockey club has made (by my count) 19 coaching changes in his 25 years with the team. Several of the changes have been recycle jobs of bringing back men he’d fired or who’d stepped down; twice he changed coaches right before the playoffs started and replaced them with…Lou Lamoriello. Because he’s won three Stanley Cups and lost in the Finals two other times, he’s gotten away with it.

The Tanner trade came about because the Pirates needed someone to take over for longtime Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh and Tanner had a reputation for being relentlessly positive, well-liked, and solid strategically. He was also said to be strong as an ox so if a player did mess with him, it was a mistake.

Tanner was an inspired hire because that Pirates’ team had strong clubhouse personalities Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and the last thing they needed was for a new manager to come storming in and throwing things. Tanner and the Pirates won the World Series in 1979. The team came apart under Tanner’s watch, but they got old and had little talent to speak of until the end of his tenure in 1985. He was replaced by Jim Leyland.

Sanguillen still threw well from behind the plate at age 33 and spent one season with the A’s, playing serviceably, before being dealt back to the Pirates prior to the 1978 season.

Lou Piniella and Antonio Perez for Randy Winn—October 28, 2002

Like the David Carpenter for Aviles trade by the Red Sox (or the Chris Carpenter for the rights for Theo Epstein—what is it with players named Carpenter and the Red Sox?), the players were secondary to the rights to speak to and hire the still-under-contract managers. Piniella had resigned as the Mariners’ manager after ten successful years and want to go to the Mets who had just fired Bobby Valentine. This is more family tree fodder since Valentine was the consolation hire the Red Sox made a year ago after failing to acquiesce to the Blue Jays’ demands to speak to Farrell. It didn’t work out.

The Mets were in disarray, GM Steve Phillips absolutely did not want Piniella for the same reasons Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman didn’t want Piniella when it was rumored he was going to replace Joe Torre after 2006—he would be uncontrollable.

It was said by the likes of Peter Gammons that the Piniella to the Mets deal would eventually get done. Of course it was nonsense. The Mariners were annoyed at Piniella and weren’t going to reward him with going to his location of choice unless they were heavily compensated. They asked the Mets for Jose Reyes knowing the Mets would say no. The Mets hired Art Howe instead.

Piniella had nowhere to go aside from the Devil Rays and, while in retrospect, he should’ve sat out a year and waited for his contract to expire, he wanted to manage and the opportunity to be close to his home appealed to him regardless of the state of the Devil Rays. Promises were made that the team would spend money and Piniella—unlike Farrell—had the cachet to squawk publicly about it when the promise was reneged upon. Owner Vince Naimoli hoped the fans would come out to see a manager manage in spite of the players and, of course, they didn’t. For Piniella’s rights and journeyman infielder Antonio Perez, they traded their best player at the time, Winn. Winn had a solid big league career and the Devil Rays would’ve been better off trading him for players rather than a manager, but judging by how the team was run at the time, they wouldn’t have accrued much more value from the players they would’ve gotten than they did from Piniella. Maybe they sold a few extra seats because Piniella was there, so what’s the difference?

Piniella spent three years there losing over 90 games in each before leaving. He took over the Cubs in 2007.

Ozzie Guillen and Ricardo Andres for Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez

The Marlins had their eye on Guillen going back years. He was a coach on their 2003 World Series winning team and had won a title of his own with the White Sox in 2005. Looking to bring a Spanish-speaking, “name” manager to buttress their winter 2011-2012 spending spree and fill their beautiful new ballpark, Guillen was still under contract with the White Sox. But the White Sox had had enough of Guillen’s antics and wanted him gone. The Marlins traded Martinez and Marinez to the White Sox to get Guillen and signed him to a 4-year contract.

The Marlins were a top-to-bottom disaster due in no small part to Guillen immediately drawing the ire of a large portion of the Marlins’ hoped-for fanbase by proclaiming his love for Fidel Castro. Guillen was suspended as manager by the club. That can’t be blamed for the Marlins’ atrocious season. They played brilliantly in May after the incident, but incrementally came apart amid infighting and poor performance.

It’s been rumored that Guillen might be fired, but if the Marlins were going to do it, they would’ve done it already. Trading Heath Bell—one of Guillen’s main agitators in the clubhouse—is a signal that Guillen will at least get a chance to start the 2013 season with a different cast of players. Since it’s Guillen, he’s absolutely going to say something stupid sooner rather than later and force owner Jeffrey Loria to fire him.

Free from Guillen’s lunacy and with a new, laid-back manager Robin Ventura, the White Sox overachieved and were in contention for the AL Central title before a late-season swoon did them in.

I discussed the Farrell deal yesterday here. He’s who the Red Sox wanted, he’s who the Red Sox got. Surrendering Aviles isn’t insignificant, but everyone in Boston appears to be on the same page when it comes to the manager.

Whether it works or not will have no connection to the past deals of this kind and if a team wants a particular person to manage their team, it’s their right to make a trade to get it done. Criticizing the Red Sox on anyone else for the hire itself is fine, but for the steps they took to do it? No. Because Farrell is the man they wanted and now he’s the man they got. For better or worse.

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Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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McClure Was Fired Because He Didn’t Work

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The key word with a pitching coach is “work”. I don’t mean working hard nor do I mean to imply the the fired Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure didn’t do as much as he could to help the Red Sox pitchers and do his job; I mean that the pitching coach has to have a working relationship with the manager and his pitching techniques have to work with the pitchers. Neither appears to have been the case between Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, McClure, and the Red Sox pitching staff.

That McClure was hired a month before Valentine and that McClure was uncomfortable (for whatever reason) with making the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do were immediate warning signs that the relationship was not going to be a successful one.

This is not the fault of Valentine or McClure but, like everything that’s gone wrong with the Red Sox organization as a whole this season, it’s the fault of the organization in general.

Larry Lucchino has interfered and openly meddled, seemingly taking joy in the newfound freedom to assert his will with the departure of Theo Epstein.

Ben Cherington has not done enough to make sure the staff people he wanted were hired and that the players he wanted to keep and dispatch were there or gone.

Valentine is guilty of being Valentine—a crime in and of itself.

McClure’s transgression is that he wasn’t the right person to be Valentine’s pitching coach and the pitchers, specifically Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, pitched poorly.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and it extends to the departed Epstein and Terry Francona.

When a team hires Valentine, they have to be all-in with Valentine. Splitting the baby doesn’t work. He has to have coaches that he trusts and will buy into his methods; he has to have a longer contract than two years to eliminate the idea that he’s on a short leash, tryout type deal who can be dumped without any financial and perceptive hit; and he has to have that aforementioned working relationship with the pitching coach.

He has or had none of that in Boston. In some cases the firing of coaches is a warning to the managers that they’re going to be next if things don’t improve. That was so when Mets’ GM Steve Phillips fired Bob Apodaca as Valentine’s pitching coach and installed one of his assistants, Dave Wallace, as the new Mets’ pitching coach. Valentine and Wallace were not on the same page, but Wallace was a respected pitching voice; was willing to make the pitching changes (it sounds small, but McClure not doing it was a symptom of the illness); the team won; the pitchers pitched well and had been around Valentine long enough to know that he wasn’t going anywhere and learned to pretty much tune out his distractions.

Valentine liked having his people around and that included new Red Sox pitching coach Randy Niemann, his former Mets’ hitting and bench coach Tom Robson, and Apodaca. Niemann and Robson were also fired by Phillips when he fired Apodaca.

With the Red Sox, Valentine has been surrounded by front office appointees and those he didn’t know; for someone as justifiably paranoid as Valentine, a target for the knives was immediately placed on his back.

I’m not an advocate of the manager getting to pick his coaches without front office okay. For years, Billy Martin wanted Art Fowler around not because Fowler was a brilliant pitching mind, but because he was Martin’s drinking buddy. Pitchers on the old Yankees’ staffs like Ron Guidry would sing the praises of Fowler, but it wasn’t because of any wisdom he imparted. It was because Fowler left them alone and kept Martin calm. Omar Minaya (yes, Omar Minaya) put it succinctly when explaining why he didn’t let his managers pick their coaches on their own when he said that he didn’t want the manager surrounding himself with his buddies.

My criteria would be that the manager doesn’t have any coach on his staff that he doesn’t want. The decisions will be made as a consensus, but both the front office and the manager has a veto. Valentine was so grateful to have a chance to manage again and had no other options to do so that he would’ve agreed to almost anything including a short-term contract and a pitching coach he didn’t know or whose philosophies he didn’t agree with.

In explanation of the firing, the Red Sox basically admitted that they couldn’t go on with Valentine and McClure together. The obvious question is, “Why didn’t they do this two months ago?” Now is no different from then aside from having less time for the change to make a difference in the season.

If this was a conciliatory gesture to Valentine for 2012, it’s a bit late to help. Reading between the lines, this could bode well for Valentine coming back in 2013 with his coaches on the staff, substantial changes to the personnel, and more of a say in the construction of the club. This Red Sox team, regardless of the coaches, isn’t very good and I’m tired of hearing injuries being presented as an excuse. They’re dysfunctional, enabled and mismatched and that would be the case if the entire planned roster was healthy.

Perhaps Valentine demanded this change. Or it could be that the front office is realizing their mistake in using Scotch Tape to repair an infrastructure that needs a significant reconstruction. If Valentine is back in 2013, Beckett won’t be; Jose Iglesias will be at shortstop; Ryan Lavarnway will see legitimate playing time behind the plate; Daniel Bard will be in the bullpen from day 1; and Apodaca and Niemann will be part of the coaching staff. Valentine walked into this situation with one arm tied behind his back and duct tape around his mouth. (He chewed through the tape.) If he returns for 2013 and goes down, at least he’ll go down his way.

//

Valentine’s Been Through This Before

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In Bobby Valentine’s first full year with the Mets, the team started out 4-10 and the veterans had already spent a substantial amount of time before the season in clandestine meetings discussing how and whether they should try to get him fired.

This was after he’d managed the team for a total of 31 games in late 1996.

Valentine was under constant pressure from the media for another already lost Mets’ season after 14 games. They’d been bad for so long, the front office hadn’t spent any money to improve a club that had finished the previous season at 71-91 under Dallas Green and Valentine and it looked as if they were well on the way to an even worse year.

But Valentine maintained his positive outlook, insisted that the team was better than they were playing and swore they’d turn it around.

No one believed in him or the Mets.

But they slowly pulled themselves together and were 18-18 after 36 games. They worked their way over .500 until they were as much as 15 games over .500 by August and one game out of the Wild Card lead.

Because they were in a division with the Braves and Marlins, they didn’t come close to a playoff spot. A massive trade made by new GM Steve Phillips brought Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas and Brian McRae from the Cubs for Mark Clark, Lance Johnson and Manny Alexander and didn’t pay the immediate dividends they’d hoped for. It wound up being a net winner for the team because the only player who was of any long-term use to either club was Wendell, but for the rest of 1997, it failed.

That September as the club faded, Valentine engaged in a public spat with star catcher Todd Hundley as Valentine complained about Hundley’s sleeping habits (or lack thereof) negatively affecting his game.

Valentine had also had a preseason dispute with pitcher Pete Harnisch as Harnisch was dealing with depression and withdrawal from quitting chewing tobacco. Valentine was blamed for the mid-season firing of GM Joe McIlvaine in a power struggle which Valentine won.

After the season he was held responsible for the ouster of longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver because Valentine felt McCarver doled too much criticism on the Mets.

Overall, Valentine came off as cold, heartless, dismissive of player complaints and Machiavellian in his attempts to accumulate organizational power from the composition of the roster to the teaching in the minor league system to the front office structure to the men in the broadcast booth.

Some of the allegations were based in truth and others were scapegoating because Valentine was an easy target since he was so polarizing.

The best starter on the staff that season wound up being Rick Reed. Reed was a journeyman righty who was shunned in the clubhouse by leader John Franco because he’d been a replacement player in 1995. Valentine managed him at the Mets’ Triple A affiliate in Norfolk and believed in him. Uninterested in acquiescing to demands or forging bonds with his veterans like Franco, Valentine did what he thought was right for his team.

And it worked.

Factions of the clubhouse hated him, but other players swore by him rather than at him because without Valentine’s insistence and belief, they wouldn’t have had major league careers at all.

Three years later, the Mets were in the World Series.

What has to be remembered now as he’s trying to handle the Red Sox is that underestimating his stubbornness and resiliency is a big mistake.

Those who think Valentine is going to resign from the Red Sox job because of a bad start can forget it.

The 1997 Mets didn’t have the expectations of the 2012 Red Sox. They weren’t trying to rebound from a humiliating collapse. In fact, that Mets team came out of nowhere.

But there are similarities to the circumstances.

If he gets a sense that the wind is blowing in the direction of him being fired, Valentine is not going to go down meekly and if that means taking on members of the front office like GM Ben Cherington or players who are running interference and smearing him behind his back, he’s going to do that.

This is not to say that Valentine has done a good job with the Red Sox because he hasn’t. Everyone is at fault for the mess they’re in. Ten years out of a Major League dugout might have caused the game to pass him by. Perhaps he can’t relate to today’s players and is overmatched for this toxic brew and massive scrutiny that no one could’ve anticipated. If that’s the case, then the hiring was a mistake, but to imply that any other manager would have a better record with this group is pure folly. The idea that “somewhere Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are laughing” is possible, but if true both men are doing a wonderful job of brushing aside their contributions to this burgeoning disaster.

Valentine didn’t put this team together, but he’s got to deal with it.

This is his last opportunity. He’s not going to give it up without a fight.

//

Cashman’s Personal Life Is Not Our Business

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Has Brian Cashman ever sat in an interview and uttered such advertising-centric inanities as “my family is my rock” or other some such nonsense that Tiger Woods used to say about his wife and children while he was conducting multiple affairs on the side?

Does Cashman claim to be living under the vows of Catholicism or whatever religion he happens to be adherent to and extol his virtuous behaviors with sex only used within the bounds of Holy matrimony and, even then, for procreation and nothing else?

Is he, in part seeking public validation of being a “good” person, by saying he was a virgin as Barry Sanders did years ago and failed at it as he had a child out of wedlock; as Tim Tebow is doing now and, as far as we know, sticking to it?

Are Cashman and his girlfriend on the cover of US Magazine like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie talking about whatever Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie talk about on the cover of US Magazine?

What’s that you say?

You don’t care about Brian Cashman’s personal life because he’s neither a star athlete nor a Hollywood luminary?

That’s exactly the point.

Who cares about Cashman’s affairs?

Believe me when I tell you that one of the last things I want to be thinking about is Brian Cashman doing whatever it is he does when he’s not general managing the Yankees.

Apparently Deadspin does think and care about these things—link—as they’ve gone to the level of visiting his former mistress, examined a pair of pajama pants as if they’re on a level with Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress…

***I’ll pause while you go get yourself a cold drink and try to keep from throwing up.***

…and played a phone call from Cashman to the woman in question (“Lou”) in which his tone is eerily similar to what I imagine he sounds like when he’s calling a rival GM and attempting to trade for Sergio Mitre.

This is a man who basically grew up under the influence of, functioned and survived in the amoral and haphazardly run dictatorship known as the George Steinbrenner Yankees.

The most impressive thing Cashman has done in his 26 years with the organization was to keep his job.

It’s not as if his image is being sullied or he’s being cut down and exposed as a hypocrite—he never espoused to any “I’m better than you because of <X>” rhetoric. He’s not particularly likable; doesn’t have much of a personality; and, if anything, this humanizes him and makes him look more like a normal person than some dead-eyed corporate menace who, if he weren’t in baseball, would be a middle-to-upper-middle managing lawyer or accountant who you wouldn’t notice until you came face-to-face with him while riding a packed subway at rush hour.

The only things people are interested in with Cashman are the types of moves he makes on the field with the Yankees.

Was he carrying on these affairs while wooing CC Sabathia to re-sign with the Yankees without venturing into free agency after his opt-out? Did his girlfriend(s) accompany him as he went to talk to the representatives for Hiroki Kuroda? Was he in one of their apartments while negotiating with the Mariners for Michael Pineda?

If yes, so what?

This doesn’t affect his work as the peccadillos of Steve Phillips did while he was the Mets GM because the Mets—due to Phillips’s inability to control himself (it was a recurring life-trend)—were under threat of a lawsuit for sexual harassment. That was the business of the media because it was part of the way the Mets were being run.

But this?

Deadspin is trying to become the TMZ/National Enquirer of the sports world. While the audio tape, pictures and story will yield a few extra webhits (probably a lot of extra webhits), it’s like rubbernecking during a fender bender. It’s a minor distraction that’s not influencing nor hurting anyone.

So who really cares?

//

It’s a Gio!!!!

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Let’s look at the Gio Gonzalez trade and its ramifications for all parties.

B-B-B-Billy and the Nats.

As I said in my prior posting, based on the flurry of trades he made and prospects acquired, the floating barometer of genius for Billy Beane is back in the green zone.

Of course it’s nonsense. The players may make it; they may not. You can get analysis of the youngsters here on MLB.com. The way the trade is being framed, it looks like the Nationals overpaid for a talented but wild lefty in Gonzalez.

The A’s are building for a future that may never come in a venue they don’t have assurances will be built—ever.

The Nationals are again hopping between two worlds. On one planet, they’re building for the future with young players Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper—along with the top-tier prospects they’ve accumulated in recent drafts; on the other, they’re signing to massive contracts background talents of advancing age like Jayson Werth.

Which is it?

If he’s healthy and throws strikes, Gonzalez will add to the Nats improving starting rotation.

Those are big “ifs”.

Right now, if things go right for the Nationals, you can make the case that they’re better than the Marlins, are going to be competitive with the Braves and maybe even the Phillies if they begin to show their age.

That would be an extreme case of things going “right”, but we’ve seen it happen in recent years as the 2008 Rays came from nowhere to go to the World Series.

The Gonzalez Chronicles.

The Red Sox were said to be pursuing Gonzalez as well; with their limited cupboard of prospects, they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) match what the Nats traded away.

What their decision to bid on him at all does it open up a series of questions as to how much influence new manager Bobby Valentine is having on the composition of his roster.

When he was the manager of the Mets, Valentine was against GM Steve Phillips’s acquisition of Mike Hampton at Christmastime 1999; Valentine felt Hampton was too wild.

If that’s the case, then what does he think of Gonzalez, who’s walked over 90 batters in each of the past two seasons?

It could be that Valentine has evolved from his earlier beliefs.

Maybe he thinks Gonzalez would’ve been worth it.

Perhaps he’s being conciliatory and flexible in his first few weeks on the job.

Or he’s being ignored.

The Yankees stayed away from Jonathan Sanchez because GM Brian Cashman didn’t want a pitcher that wild. He wasn’t going to mortgage the system for Gonzalez when they’re still after Felix Hernandez.

Other teams were chasing Gonzalez, but the Nats blew them away.

Those teams were smart to steer clear; Beane was savvy to deal Gonzalez now and use the A’s teardown as a cover; and the Nats are taking an enormous leap of faith with a pitcher who’s going to aggravate them with his inability to find the strike zone.

There are better pitchers on the market via free agency (Edwin Jackson; Roy Oswalt); and trade (Gavin Floyd, Jair Jurrjens)—all are superior options to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is a deep and risky bomb for the Nats that I wouldn’t have attempted.

//

The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

//

Hot Stove Bat To The Kneecap

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To the best of my recollection, the Mets have won several hot stove championships in recent years.

In the winter of 2001-2002, reeling from having been picked to make the playoffs and stumbling to mediocrity in 2001, GM Steve Phillips acted aggressively in acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz.

The brew he concocted was toxic; it neatly paralleled the deteriorating relationship and festering tensions between Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine; the result was a 75-86 record and Valentine’s firing after the season.

They also became the darlings of drastic off-season facelifts in the winter of 2004-2005—Omar Minaya’s first year—by signing the biggest pitching name, Pedro Martinez and the biggest outfield name, Carlos Beltran; and hiring Willie Randolph as the manager.

After briefly flirting with contention, they finished tied for 3rd place with an 83-79 record.

In 2007-2008, coming off a monstrous 2007 collapse, the acquired one of the top three pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana; but the injury to Billy Wagner in August left the club with a bullpen in shambles and they stumbled from the playoff race on the last day of the season.

These are not instances limited to the Mets.

The “hot stove champions” look unbeatable from November to March.

Then they start playing.

If headlines and media/fan approval were championships, the 2011 Phillies-Red Sox World Series would’ve been epic; the 2010 Mariners and their “Amazin’ Exec” GM Jack Zduriencik would be on the way to the Hall of Fame; the 2011 Athletics would’ve provided a fitting conclusion to the Moneyball fantasy as Billy Beane‘s genius coincided with his dramatically licensed and factually inaccurate portrayal in the movie.

The Red Sox collapsed; the Phillies were bounced in the playoffs; the 2010 Mariners lost 100 games and were a embarrassment on and a travesty off the field; and the Athletics are horrible as Beane uses his chameleon-like skills at fostering positive public perception to lay the atrocity off on the lack of a new stadium, others stealing “his” strategies and morphing into the likable and hapless everyman, swallowed up by factors out of his control.

Buy it if you want—if you’re a mindless sheep; if you’re stupid.

Because the Mets haven’t signed Jose Reyes to a new contract immediately upon his filing for free agency the consensus—which appears to be based on faux “sources” and the demands of editors to drum up attention and render web hits—is that Reyes is already out the door.

He might be.

He might not be.

Whether he’s a Met or not in 2012 doesn’t automatically mean the Mets are going to be any better than they’d be without him; nor does it mean the team that signs him will have a stamped ticket to the playoffs.

In spite of what the likes of Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch write, the Mets winning another hot stove title or treading water and perhaps badly hindering the club’s retooling efforts will not repair the issues surrounding the team for 2012.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the more important time for a team’s success or failure is the summer.

Drafting players that will eventually be tradable; gauging the market and the competition; going for a deep strike or holding fire—making intelligent analysis based on circumstances rather than maneuvering for positive coverage and validation of media imbeciles and reactionary fans—are far more important to winning than anything that’s done in the winter.

The 2010 Phillies were staggering at mid-summer, barely over .500 and entertaining offers for Jayson Werth; relentlessly and rightfully hammered for trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners in exchange for Roy Halladay and gazing into the abyss of a lost season, they fixed the hole they themselves created in the rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt; and they were lucky that Shane Victorino got injured and they had no one else to play center field, so they had to keep Werth.

Those Phillies went on a tear to win the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The same Giants who picked up Cody Ross on waivers and signed Pat Burrell after he’d been released. Both players were key components to the Giants championship.

Slightly over three months ago, the Cardinals desperately traded away their one young star-talent, Colby Rasmus, to acquire Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel—without whom they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the World Series.

It’s all hindsight.

If Reyes signs a $150 million contract and pulls his hamstring in May, will the critics be savaging the Mets for letting him leave?

Money aside, does anyone truly believe that GM Sandy Alderson and his staff don’t have a viable backup plan in the event Reyes departs?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be sexy to be sensible.

Continue reading the blatant partisanship from Sherman among others if you want to have a basis for complaint.

But don’t misunderstand what you’re reading as you indulge in the hackery and do not say you weren’t warned.

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