Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

You can read the basis of these postings and part I here.

Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch is the epitome of the “do the right thing” owner with all of his sports franchises. He hires people who are both perceived to know and do know what they’re doing and gives them the resources to be successful. With GM Dave Dombrowski, there’s none of the “look how smart I am” pretense in which he wants to win but more than winning, he wants credit for winning and being the architect of the franchise.

Dombrowski is the classic old-school baseball guy who worked his way up organically and didn’t trick anyone with an array of numbers and catchy business-themed buzzwords. Some owners want to hear that stuff and it’s usually either the ruthless corporate types who have no interest in anyone’s feelings and putting out a product that will be both practically successful and aesthetically likable; or a rich guy who didn’t work for his money and is interested in seeing his name in the papers, but doesn’t have the faintest concept into what running a sports franchise is all about and isn’t able to comprehend that you can’t run a baseball team like a corporation and expect it to work.

Ilitch knows and understands this and lets Dombrowski do his job. Dombrowski has built three different clubs to success with the Expos, Marlins and Tigers and had a hand in the early 1980s White Sox who rose to prominence under manager Tony LaRussa. For those who consider Dombrowski a product of Ilitch’s willingness to spend money and little else, it’s simply not true and is only presented as an excuse because he’s not a stat guy. He knows talent, spends money when necessary, but also has an old-school GM’s aggressiveness going after what he wants when others wouldn’t know what they’re getting as evidenced by his under-the-radar trade for Doug Fister. Most people in baseball barely knew who Fister was at the time the Tigers traded for him and the acquisition exemplified Dombrowski’s thinking and decisionmaking as he refused to take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik saying “no” for an answer. The prospects Dombrowski gave up to get Fister haven’t done much for the Mariners and Fister is a solid mid-rotation starter at age 29.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians use the transfer of power approach when they name their GM. John Hart passed his job on to Mark Shapiro and Shapiro moved up to the team presidency and Chris Antonetti took over as GM. This is not a situation where the GM is actually running the whole show. Shapiro may have moved up to a more powerful position above the player personnel fray, but he still has significant input in the club’s construction.

In general when there’s a promotion of this kind, it’s done so that the team president doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day minutiae that the GM has to deal with. I’m talking about press conferences, giving the final nod on the draft, listening to manager/player complaints and other redundant and tiresome exercises that make a GM want to get the promotion (or demotion) in the first place.

The Indians GM job and other front office positions are rarely if ever in jeopardy. It’s understood that there are payroll constraints and Shapiro and company have the freedom to teardown and rebuild as they see fit. This year is different because they hired a pricey name manager in Terry Francona and spent money on players Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and make a bold trade in sending Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Much of this is rumored to be due to owner Larry Dolan wanting to boost the product and attendance to increase the franchise’s sale value and then sell it.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are unique in that owner Jerry Reinsdorf trusts former GM and now Executive V.P. Ken Williams implicitly and lets him do what he wants even if that includes considering making Paul Konerko player/manager prior to hiring an unproven Robin Ventura who had no managerial experienced whatsoever.

Much like the Indians, Williams moved up to a higher executive perch and Rick Hahn took over as the day-to-day GM with Williams maintaining significant influence on the club’s construction. Outsiders rip Williams but he wants to win at the big league level every year and tends to ignore development. If contending is not in the cards, he reacts preemptively and blows it up. Another reason he’s so loathed by the stat person wing is because he scoffs at them with the reality that they haven’t the faintest idea as to what running a club entails, nor does he care about what they say.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are insular and won’t bring in a new GM from the outside who’s going to want to clear out the house of former employees, marginalize longtime implementer of the “Twins way” Tom Kelly, and fire manager Ron Gardenhire. With that in mind, when they demoted Bill Smith from the GM position, they reached into the past for the GM of the club during their annual trips to the post-season, Terry Ryan.

The Twins have a packed farm system and should be back contending in the next couple of years. Ryan is decidedly old-school, has a background in scouting and worked his way up like Dombrowski. He’s willing to listen and discuss his philosophy with the stat people at their conventions, but will continue to be a scouting and “feel” GM as he looks for players that fit into what he, Kelly and Gardenhire prefer rather than someone whose OPS jumps off the page but might not behave in the manner the Twins want their players to.

The Twins ownership is one of the wealthiest in sports but there’s a tradeoff with their manner of ownership: they don’t interfere with the baseball people, but they don’t give them any more money than is within the budget. They treat it like a business. There are probably more benefits to that than negatives since they’re willing to have a $100+ million payroll and aren’t asking Ryan to complete the very difficult task of winning with $60 million or less.

Kansas City Royals

What’s funny about Dayton Moore becoming a punching bag for the Royals horrific backwards streak in which they went from 17-10 to 22-30 is that none of his more vicious critics was saying much of anything when the team was playing well and it looked like Moore’s decision to trade a package led by Wil Myers to the Rays for a package led by James Shields was going to yield the desired result.

Moore learned as an assistant to John Schuerholz and played a significant role in the Braves having a fertile farm system through the 1990s and early 2000s, but might not be cut out to be a fulltime GM. He’s good at building a farm system and has trouble sprinkling in necessary ingredients to supplement the youngsters on the big league roster.

When Moore was making the rounds as a GM candidate, he almost seemed to be reluctant to take the job. He interviewed with the Red Sox in 2002 and withdrew from consideration after the first interview. He then took the Royals job at mid-season 2006. Perhaps he knew something that those who touted him as a GM candidate didn’t; maybe he was happy as an assistant and didn’t want the scrutiny that comes from being a GM and took it because he was expected to move up to the next level as a GM.

Whatever it was, I think of other GMs and former GMs who had certain attributes to do the job but weren’t cut out to be the guy at the top of the food chain because of the missing—and important—other aspects. Omar Minaya was like that. Minaya is a great judge of talent, can charm the reporters and fans, has a fantastic rapport with the Latin players and can be a convincing salesman. When he was introducing his new free agent signing or acquisition in a big trade, he was great with a big smile and nice suit as a handsome representative for the team. But when there was dirty work to be done like firing his manager, firing an assistant, or answering reporters’ questions regarding a controversy, his shakiness with the English language and propensity to be too nice came to the forefront and he couldn’t do the job effectively.

There’s nothing wrong with being a great assistant when the alternative is being a mediocre-to-bad GM and winding up right back where he or she started from.

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American League Central—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I recently looked at the AL East, how they’re faring now and their prospects for the future. Now let’s look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

There are few baseball executives for whom their statements should be taken at face value, but White Sox GM Ken Williams is one. Because of that, when he says he misspoke about blowing the whole thing up at the conclusion of the 2011 season, then didn’t blow the whole thing up and instead made moves to try and win while getting younger and more flexible, I believe him.

The White Sox success can be chalked up to: manager Robin Ventura’s calm demeanor in stark contrast to the raving lunacy of Ozzie Guillen; Jake Peavy coming back from injury and pitching like a top tier starter; Chris Sale’s development as a starting pitcher; Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios’s comebacks; and the parity around the American League.

Ventura and Mike Matheny have become a regular “example” that managers don’t need to have managerial experience to be successful. Of course it’s nonsense and taken greatly out of context. Ventura’s done a good job and his cachet as a former All Star player and popular person in Chicago has helped him greatly, but anyone other than Guillen would’ve been taken as a welcome respite from the daily haranguing and controversy that surrounded the former manager’s big mouth and followed him—with disastrous results—to Miami.

As long as Williams is the GM, the White Sox have a chance to be competitive because he has no patience for long rebuilds and makes aggressive maneuvers accordingly.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have been inconsistent in every facet. Their defense, while not being as bad as predicted, still isn’t good; the offense is 7th in the AL in runs scored despite having two MVP candidates Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Austin Jackson having a fantastic year; the bullpen has been shaky; and Justin Verlander has been excellent and is still a Cy Young Award candidate, but has taken enough of a step back from his CYA/MVP of 2011 back to humanity to account for the Tigers fighting for a playoff spot.

There’s been talk that manager Jim Leyland, in the final year of his contract, could be in trouble if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. It’s silly. Leyland can still handle the egos in that clubhouse and the very last thing the Tigers need to do and, tying in with the concept of a manager with zero experience, is to hire someone young just to make a change.

The Tigers dealt away several prospects including Jacob Turner to get Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, but they’ve held onto Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. The farm system is not barren and as long as they have Fielder, Cabrera, and Verlander, they’ll be competitive. Changing managers for the sake of it makes zero sense.

Kansas City Royals

It’s ludicrous how those who felt the Royals were going to parlay their loaded farm system into a leap to legitimate contention jump off the train as soon as a rebuild doesn’t adhere to the “plan”. Young players sometimes hit speedbumps on the way up. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still two players around whom to build; Alex Gordon is a solid presence at the plate and in the field; Billy Butler is emerging as an unknown star; and Salvador Perez and several young pitchers got hurt.

The talent is still there. As long as they don’t panic, there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

They do need to show improvement for manager Ned Yost to keep his job past next May/June; and GM Dayton Moore will probably get one more managerial hire if Yost has to be replaced, then the onus will be on him.

Cleveland Indians

2012 went completely wrong with 2013 not looking much better. They got off to a good start and were hovering around contention through mid-season until they collapsed completely and, since being 50-50 on July 27th, have gone 10-36. Manny Acta has a contract for next season, but since the Indians don’t have much money to spend and are openly ready to listen to offers for one of their few marketable players Shin-Soo Choo, there’s no point in sending Acta back out there as a lame duck when they have a managerial prospect in the popular former Indians’ hero Sandy Alomar Jr. on the coaching staff.

Closer Chris Perez ripped the organization from top to bottom recently and will presumably be shipped out of town for his candor. Considering that Perez is a slightly better-than-average closer, it’s not his place to be opening his mouth. The Indians are short on foundational talent. Asdrubal Cabrera is a very good player; Carlos Santana doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher and his skills are less impressive as a first baseman; and their supposed top two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, haven’t pitched well.

The Indians have a long road ahead of them and may have to restart their rebuild.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins were competitive for a decade after a decade of being so terrible that they were a target of contraction. Now instead of being a target, they built Target Field and spent money to try and win in 2010. To that end, they traded away a top prospect Wilson Ramos for a mediocre reliever Matt Capps; they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and repeated the Mets’ mistake with Kazuo Matsui, except Nishioka isn’t as talented as Matsui was; and they brought back their old GM Terry Ryan who still hasn’t had the interim label taken from his title.

Ownership has said that they want Ryan to take the job on a permanent basis. We’ll see. If Ryan isn’t fully committed or ownership wants to go in a new direction with an outsider, manager Ron Gardenhire could be in trouble as well.

Offensively, they’ve rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 with Joe Mauer back to being Joe Mauer; a tremendous year from Josh Willingham; and Justin Morneau finally returning to form after his concussion problems.

They’re still severely short in the pitching department and are running into identical issues as the Mets did when they moved into their new park after contending for several years and building a canyon instead of a ballpark. The Mets moved the fences in and started a full-blown rebuild. The Twins have yet to do that, but they’re going to have to infuse the organization with more talent to get back to competitiveness.

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Dog Days Manager/GM Hotseat Grows Hotter

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Let’s look at the managers and GMs whose hot seats have gotten hotter as the season’s shaken out.

Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox

If I were to place a percentage on how much of what’s gone wrong with the Red Sox is the fault of Valentine, I’d say about 30%. The team was overrated and patched together; the front office has interfered with many of the things he wanted to do such as using Daniel Bard as a reliever; and they saddled him with a pitching coach in Bob McClure with whom he’s not on the same page.

Valentine has damaged himself with the ill-advised—and mostly innocuous—challenge he issued to Kevin Youkilis and it’s becoming abundantly clear that the cauldron of Boston probably wasn’t the best spot for him to return after a 10-year hiatus from managing in the big leagues. Valentine’s reputation put him on shaky footing as soon as he was hired. If he said “hello” the wrong way, the players and media would’ve pounced on it. He only received a 2-year contract and with the way this season is going to end, his reputation and that players are going to avoid signing with the Red Sox specifically because of him, they won’t have a choice but to make a change.

Barring any spending spree and a major infusion of better luck, the Red Sox will learn in 2013 that it wasn’t the manager’s fault. The team isn’t very good and is entering a new phase that will take time to recover from. Chasing the past with desperation moves that were diametrically opposed to what built the Red Sox powerhouse has done little more than stagnate that inevitable process.

They’re a mess and Valentine or not, that won’t change anytime soon.

Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians

I’m getting the Rene Lachemann feeling from Acta.

Lachemann was a well-respected baseball man who paid his dues. The players liked him and liked playing for him and, for the most part, he made the correct strategic decisions. But year-after-year, he was stuck with teams that had very little talent with records that reflected it. He managed the woebegone Mariners of the early-1980s; the Brewers for one season; and was the first manager of the Marlins. His managerial career ended with a .433 winning percentage.

Acta is much the same. He has a contract for 2013, but that won’t matter. The Indians had some expectations this season and, after hovering around contention, have come undone. It’s not his fault, but the Indians might bring in someone else. Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the coaching staff and has been on several managerial short-lists, plus is still revered in Cleveland. He’d take the pressure off the front office’s reluctance to spend money…for a time, anyway.

Acta’s young and competent enough to get another chance to manage somewhere.

Ron Gardenhire/Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins

Ryan still hasn’t had the “interim” label removed from his job title and with the Twins’ struggles over the past two seasons, it’s not hard to think they’re going to bring in a younger, more stat-savvy GM and start a full-bore rebuild. If Ryan is out and the structure of the team is dramatically altered, the respected Gardenhire might choose to move on as well. He’d get another managerial job.

Ned Yost/Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals

This team was expected to, at the very least, be around .500 or show progress with their young players. Injuries have decimated them and the trade of Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez—completely sensible and understandable—was a disaster. Jeff Francoeur has reverted to being Jeff Francoeur after a very good 2011 season resulted in a contract extension. Moore has a contract through 2014 and ownership won’t fire him now. Yost’s contract option for 2013 was exercised and he’ll get the start of 2013 to see how things go.

Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners

I discussed Zduriencik when talking about the Ichiro Suzuki trade.

I think he’s safe for now.

Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins

With any other team employing a “name” manager with a 4-year contract, a change would be absurd. But this is the Marlins and the Marlins are not a bastion of logic and sanity. Guillen invited the ire of the Cuban community in Miami with his statement in support of Fidel Castro and was suspended; the team is a nightmare on and off the field and is ready and willing to do anything.

He’ll survive 2012, but if this continues into mid-season 2013, he’s going to get fired.

Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds

He’s not on the hotseat, but why has Baker’s contract status not been addressed? Unless there have been quiet assurances made to him that the public doesn’t know about, his deal expires at the end of this season. Say what you want about him, but if he’s got the talent on his roster, he wins. The Reds are in first place and rolling. He deserves a bit more security than he has.

Brad Mills, Houston Asros

Mills has done as good a job as he possibly could with a team that doesn’t have much talent, is in a major rebuild and is moving to the American League next season. GM Jeff Luhnow inherited Mills and it made little sense to fire the manager and pay someone else to run a team that would lose 95-100 games if John McGraw was managing it. Luhnow is going to hire his own man to manage the team and Mills will get another shot somewhere else eventually.

Bud Black, San Diego Padres

Black has never been a particularly strong strategic manager and his contract is only guaranteed through 2013 with club options for 2014-2015. There’s a new regime in place with GM Josh Byrnes and a new ownership coming in and they might want to make a change. I doubt it, but it’s possible.

Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies

Dan O’Dowd was recently demoted from running to the team to overseeing the minor league system. Assistant GM Bill Geivett will run the big league club.

This is an odd set-up for an oddly run organization. O’Dowd’s contract status is unknown, but manager Jim Tracy has a “handshake agreement” to manage the team for an “indefinite” amount of time, whatever that means. One would assume that O’Dowd has a similarly bizarre deal.

I get the impression that O’Dowd is relieved to not have to run the team anymore. Perhaps he himself suggested this new arrangement. It’s hard to see Tracy surviving this season even though he’s a good manager and man and this isn’t his fault. Things went downhill for the Rockies when Troy Tulowitzki got hurt, but that won’t stop them from making a managerial change.

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8:25 AM–MLB Deadline Day

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Let’s take a brief look at the trades that have been completed up to now, at 8:25 AM EST.

White Sox acquire Francisco Liriano from the Twins

It’s increasingly looking as if Twins’ “interim” GM Terry Ryan probably should’ve stayed retired. Getting Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez for a lefty arm in Liriano—even one who’s a pending free agent—is a nonexistent return on a potential difference-maker down the stretch. And why trade him 3 days before the deadline? Why not wait? The only situation in which to jump at a trade that early is when there’s an offer on the table not to be refused. This was a deal that the Twins should’ve refused, or at least waited to see if anything else came up.

Blue Jays trade OF Travis Snider to the Pirates for RHP Brad Lincoln

Snider was a 1st round draft pick of then-Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi in 2006 and is the prototypical lefty masher with pop that the supposedly stat-savvy once coveted. He’s gotten chances to play with the Blue Jays and shown flashes of being a 15-20 homer man, but has also endured horrific slumps. Snider’s more of a Matt Stairs-type than an everyday player.

Lincoln was also a 1st round pick in 2006 who failed as a starter—amid blame being doled on former Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for changing his mechanics—and has found a home in the bullpen. Perhaps the Blue Jays are going to try him as a starter; perhaps the Pirates will give Snider a legitimate chance to play.

Neither is a kid anymore with Lincoln 27 and Snider 24. Both could use a change.

Cubs trade LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman

Vizcaino is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but had a 100-mph fastball before he got hurt. Chapman is 25 and stagnating at Triple A. He strikes out a batter-per-inning. Johnson is a speedy and useful extra outfielder who can play all three positions.

I’ve always liked Maholm and felt it was a drastic mistake for the Pirates to turn down his contract option when they could’ve held onto him and used/traded him. Maholm is not a rental for the Braves as he has a contract option for 2013 at $6.5 million. That said, this trade is in line with the Braves looking for an “impact” starter such as Zack Greinke, but also placing the likes of Jason Vargas in the category of “impact”. Vargas is not that and nor is Maholm, although Maholm is better than Vargas. It’s a useful and not earth-shattering pickup.

If it were a team president/GM combo in Chicago that was the target of ridicule by the self-proclaimed “experts” in the media and clever purveyors of snark, does anyone doubt that the joke would be made that the Cubs are under the mistaken impression that the combination of an Arodys and a Chapman means they’re getting a 200-mph fastball in some weird Frankenstein mixing and matching of human parts?

Cubs trade C Geovany Soto to the Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham

Brigham’s numbers in Double A haven’t been impressive over the past two seasons, but Cubs’ boss Theo Epstein is cleaning house and accumulating arms. Soto was a burgeoning star once, but injuries and apparent apathy from playing with a team spiraling so far, so fast appears to have affected him negatively. The change to a contender with a very friendly home part for hitters is a good move for him.

In a corresponding move, the Rangers designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. Is there anyone, anywhere who doubts Torrealba’s going to wind up with the Mets?

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Ominous Signs For The Twins

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If Twins’ GM Terry Ryan’s recent moves and statements are any indication, the team is well on the way to another long lull similar to the one they experienced from 1994-2000 when they were not only considered a dead franchise, but they were almost contracted from MLB entirely.

Considering the context of his remarks at the SABR 42 convention, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more vitriol coming from the stat person crowd at Ryan’s open decision to stay the course with his beliefs of scouting and intuition rather than numbers.

I’m no stat guy and I don’t think any organization in any industry should be run on numbers alone. I have no use for people who’ve watched baseball for two years, can read a stat sheet and pompously and condescendingly declare that they know more than people who’ve been involved with the game for decades, but those that haven’t fully incorporated the use of statistics into the equation are missing out on factors that can be used to make more informed choices.

Under no circumstances do I believe in absolutes when building an organization.

The statement of alteration in their draft strategy would concern me.

Ryan said that Target Field has changed his team’s Draft philosophies. The Twins used to look at left-handed pitchers and hitters when they played at the Metrodome, but he said that the team’s new outdoor facility favors right-handed hitters and outfielders who can cover a lot of ground.

Drafting to the ballpark or the organizational belief system has its place within reason. I wouldn’t draft a player who had a history of drug or alcohol problems; trouble with the law; character issues unless I was convinced the incidents were isolated or had been handled and hadn’t occurred in recent history. I wouldn’t exclude a player if he didn’t prototypically “fit” into my big league ballpark. If there was a debate between two players of similar ability and one was a better fit for the big league park, then it’s a sensible to take him. Specifically looking for players that fit into a big league park is a doomed strategy.

In football or basketball, where a player is stepping out of the amateurs and into the highest level of professional competition, it’s an understandable method to draft based on need. Not so in baseball. For most players it will take several years for them to be ready for the big leagues; foreseeing the “need” argument for 3-5 years down the line is impossible.

The absolutist mentality came into prominence after Moneyball because the narrative suggested that Billy Beane had stumbled upon the perfect method of drafting. But there is no perfect method of drafting. It doesn’t exist.

There does have to be adaptation.

The question about Ryan becomes is he equipped to function in today’s game? Is he willing to do what’s necessary to turn the Twins around? They just signed Ryan Doumit to a contract extension—a questionable move. They should look to trade Justin Morneau. Will they?

They’re currently a disaster and have little talent to speak of in their system. He’s got a lot of work to do and is functioning under an “interim” tag.

It doesn’t sound as if the Twins have learned from their mistakes in building this monstrosity. They’re changing their way of doing things, but still following strategies that were en vogue 20 years ago. They’ve taken a different form.

There were some nice moments during the SABR convention and Ryan was gracious to appear and share his views, but I can’t help but picture many of the participants rolling their eyes and referring to Ryan as an old-school dinosaur who’s refusing to change with the times and knowing that the Twins are in trouble if he sticks to the template he outlined.

Ryan’s been a high-quality executive, a good baseball man and a decent person.

But maybe it’s time for someone else to oversee this reconstruction; someone with fresh eyes; someone open to doing things differently.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates–Justin Morneau

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Name: Justin Morneau

Tale of the tape: 31-years-old; bats left; throws right; 6’4”; 220 lbs.

Contract status: $14 million annual salary for 2012 and 2013; free agent after 2013.

Would the Twins trade him?

Yes.

This was reported with an undertone of shock as if it was unheard of before the likes of Ken Rosenthal implied it as a possibility. The Twins took an attitude of “let’s get back to doing things the Twins way” when Terry Ryan stepped back into the General Manager’s seat. Part of that was hoping Morneau recovered enough from his post-concussion issues and other injuries to become the MVP-level player he was until mid-season 2010 when his world—literally and figuratively—was shaken from its axis from a blow to the head trying to break up a double play. Since then it’s been one thing or another for Morneau and the Twins. The team has become a punching bag.

They’re not dumping salary just for the sake of it so Joe Mauer won’t be available, but Morneau is a free agent after 2013, he won’t be around when they start to get better and clearing that salary will free them to spend it on what they need this winter (pitching) and get rid of Morneau while he’s healthy and showing signs of a resurgence.

There’s a thought that the trading of Morneau would allow the Twins to move Mauer to first base, but I don’t think that’s as automatic as is being suggested. Mauer is smart enough to understand that his bat is far more valuable than his ability to catch, but he likes and wants to catch. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos, they would’ve had a capable and young replacement behind the plate. Now they don’t. If Mauer plays first base, it will be on a part-time basis. I’d expect the Twins to find an everyday first baseman on the cheap for a short-term deal until Mauer is past his 30th birthday and is ready to make the permanent shift from behind the plate.

The Twins’ mistake in trading Ramos is now being magnified for the gaffe it was. They got a pretty good reliever in Matt Capps, but he’s most certainly not worth a team’s number 1 prospect whether his path is blocked by a Hall of Fame-level player in Mauer or not. If a team is trading that type of talent there are two things that can save them: 1) have it work as it did for the Marlins when they traded Adrian Gonzalez as part of the deal to get Ugueth Urbina and won the World Series; and 2) have the team that traded for the player either trade him as well or see him fail. Because the Rangers also traded Gonzalez (who wasn’t considered a great prospect by either team), it’s not referenced as a horrible trade.

It’s a dual-pronged defense for the Marlins.

Morneau—if he’s healthy and hitting for power—could be the difference between not making the playoffs and winning the World Series.

What would they want for him?

The Twins need everything from starting pitching to bullpen help to a corner infield bat who can hit.

It’s not outrageous to think they could get legitimate prospects in two of those spots and a moderate prospect in the third. If they’re willing to eat some of Morneau’s salary, they’ll get better prospects. The idea that the Twins are a mid-market team is accurate in name only. The Pohlad family is one of the richest ownerships in sports. The business model exercised by the late Carl Pohlad made it appear as if they held the team payroll in check out of necessity, but that’s not the case. It was a conscious choice. Pohlad was criticized for it, but he was a businessman. Like most offshoots of a wide-ranging structure, the Twins had a budget and Pohlad made his baseball people stick to it without doling endless streams of extra money from the emergency jar.

There’s nothing wrong with that and for the Twins, it worked.

Which teams would pursue and have the prospects to get him?

The Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians, Marlins, Cardinals and Dodgers have the financial wherewithal and prospects to get it done. Other clubs that might be involved if they’re willing to give up what the Twins want in exchange for Morneau and money to pay him are the Indians and Pirates.

What will happen.

Morneau is going to get traded and I’d bet on him winding up with the Dodgers.

Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti is aggressive and doesn’t mess around. Much was made of his decision to trade Carlos Santana as part of the trade that got the Dodgers Casey Blake in 2008. In the long-term, it was a mistake; in the short-term with a little luck the Dodgers could’ve won a World Series or two with Blake. Had that happened, it would’ve been the same situation as the Marlins had with trading Gonzalez for Urbina. With the new ownership taking over, Colletti will be free to do as he sees fit. Upgrading the offense is paramount for the Dodgers and Morneau fills that bill.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Round and Round the Majors, 5.10.2012

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Not enough people are paying attention to Nick Swisher’s terrific throw to the plate on B.J Upton’s sacrifice fly to tie the game. Swisher nearly cut Sean Rodriguez down at the plate. It would’ve ended the game.

The focus, naturally, has been on David Robertson blowing the game in the ninth inning. It was his second save chance since replacing Mariano Rivera and the second time in a row in which he’s gotten into immediate trouble. He got through the first one, not so the second.

Robertson was pulled after allowing a 3-run homer to Matt Joyce in the Rays’ eventual 4-1 win. Some fans at Yankee Stadium booed while others showed patience.

Robertson has time to get himself right and comfortable, but that time is finite. The fans, media and organization will give him breathing room, but eventually he has to get the job done.

What I didn’t like was Robertson’s body language. It was as if he was shrugging; a “tra la la, I’ll just do the best I can and if I fail, so be it” reaction as he was removed. If he doesn’t have a sense of urgency, he’d better get one and he’d better get it quick.

After the years of consistency he posted, did anyone really believe that a non-PED case like Adam Dunn had just lost it all in one year?

The combination of the new league, a failing and fractured team and raving maniac for a manager appeared to put Dunn out of sorts in 2011. That’s not defending someone who was paid $12 million for a .569 OPS, but it’s a reason.

With Ozzie Guillen gone and the expectations for the White Sox as a whole tamped down and for Dunn non-existent, he’s again doing what he does.

He’s striking out—a major league leading 47.

He’s walking—an AL leading 25.

He’s homering—10.

And he’s slugging—a .970 OPS.

This is the guy the White Sox thought they were getting.

  • The Twins’ stability is in question.

That anyone would even speculate on the job security of Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire is madness.

GM Terry Ryan is a different story because he’s still got the “interim” tag attached to his name and, at his age and having come back from an early retirement, he might not have the stomach to do what needs to be done to this current group that’s well on the way to losing 105 games.

It was silly to think that Ryan’s mere presence in the big chair was going to fix what ails the Twins—no starting pitching; a mediocre bullpen; black spots in the lineup; and a compromised former MVP, Justin Morneau.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Twins were considered a netherworld that “couldn’t” win under their self-imposed payroll constraints. They were completely hopeless from 1993-2000. There was no “Twins Way” of operating like there was from 2002-2010.

Their cycle has passed and they need to start over, but you can’t credit Gardenhire as a stabilizing force and natural heir apparent to two-time World Series winner Tom Kelly, then blame him when things go wrong.

Gardenhire is exactly the type of disciplined, no-nonsense, “you’ll perform the proper fundamentals or you won’t play”-type of manager a team like the Twins needs to reboot.

As for a GM, Ryan either has to take the job and commit or let them hire someone else.

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The Twins As League Tomato Can

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First it was the Red Sox and now it’s the Angels. Two teams with high preseason expectations and off to atrocious and scrutiny-laced starts are righting their flagging ships by beating up on the Twins.

For a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning and garnering a playoff spot as if by divine right (and being in a bad division), the Twins have rapidly become the league punching bag.

It’s going to last all season.

The return of former GM Terry Ryan was greeted with much fanfare and expectations of improvement. In the winter, he made a series of old-school “Twins” moves by signing the underrated Jamey Carroll; the innings-eating Jason Marquis; declining the contract option and re-signing veteran reliever Matt Capps; signing Josh Willingham and the competent backup catcher/first baseman/outfielder Ryan Doumit.

He also brought in an array of arms for the bullpen in the hopes that a few of them would be cheap, useful cogs in the machine.

But none of that addressed the fundamental problems that led to the 99-loss disaster of 2011.

The starting rotation is still contact-based and the pitchers are eerily similar to one another; the bullpen is serviceable but nowhere near what it was when manager Ron Gardenhire had durable veterans who knew their roles and were backed up by an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan; the lineup has black spots and no replacements on the horizon.

Already 6-17, Ryan doesn’t even have the option to clear out the house and build for the future because there are few players that any other team would be willing to give up a ton to get. Justin Morneau is a shell of what he was after concussions and their aftereffects. He might be worth a shot if he wasn’t due $28 million for 2012-2013. Perhaps they could eat some of the money to get back better young players in a deal.

Denard Span would bring back value, but he’s signed cheaply (a guaranteed $14.75 million with an option for 2015 at $9 million) and, with it so difficult to find a competent centerfielder, it makes no sense to move him unless they’re bowled over with an offer.

Joe Mauer is hitting again, but with Mauer, the residue of the failed tenure of demoted GM Bill Smith remains. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos instead of trading him to the Nationals for Capps, they’d have a big league ready catcher who would free them to move Mauer to another position at least part time. In much the same way the Yankees are proving now with the burgeoning nightmare trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners, if you’re trading a top prospect who can catch and hit, you’d better get something useful and proven in return.

The Twins will get low level prospects for pending free agent Carl Pavano (trade him to the Yankees!) and probably less for fellow free agent Francisco Liriano.

The organization had been the dominant force in the AL Central for a decade, but now they’re relegated to the equivalent of a found opponent that the managers and promoters of rising boxers use to fatten up their charge’s knockout record.

If I were a Twins’ fan, I’d get used to the abuse because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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