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.

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For Better Or Worse, This Is Why Valentine Was Hired

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For some players, criticism serves as motivation. It’s up to the manager to determine which players can handle being called out publicly, yelled at in front of others and which need the smoother, more gentle approach.

Bobby Valentine is under fire for his comments about Kevin Youkilis. You can read the story here on ESPN.com.

Valentine said:

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said. “But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”

Is there a big controversy about these comments? Are they on a level with Valentine, as Mets’ manager, openly suggesting that Todd Hundley was partying when he should’ve been sleeping?

These media storms were regular occurrences with Valentine. It’s an old-school method from an old-school manager and that’s what the Red Sox wanted when they hired Valentine.

The “let them be” approach of Terry Francona was credited with the Red Sox rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS; it was credited with them rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the 2007 ALCS. They won the World Series in sweeps after both pennants.

Last year the Red Sox had all the ingredients to win again and didn’t. Francona’s hands off approach was blamed.

Was it because Francona was too soft?

Was it because they had too many players who were more interested in selfish pursuits than forging bonds with teammates?

Or did they hit a bad patch with injuries and poor play at the wrong time?

Whatever it was, Valentine is the opposite of Francona in temperament and tone. He’s an experienced baseball man as a player, coach, manager and broadcaster and if, after watching Youkilis from afar, observing him this spring and over the first 10 games of the season he saw something different in Youkilis’s intensity, it’s not out of the realm of reason to openly question him to light a fire and get him playing angry.

In the above-linked story, Dustin Pedroia defended Youkilis and said the oft-repeated phrase, “That’s not the way we go about our stuff around here.”

The way they did things ended 2011 in embarrassment, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re changing the plot in 2012.

Valentine couldn’t care less what the players think of him as long as there’s a unity of purpose. If that means the unity was borne from hatred of him, he’ll live with that if it results in wins on the field.

It was a strange time to do it since the Red Sox are playing well, but that too might’ve been intentional.

Or he might’ve said something that he felt would be innocuous and was blown out of proportion.

Does it matter?

Like the hiring of Valentine, the only way to know if it succeeded will be in hindsight. If Youkilis goes on a tear starting now, the perception will be that it was Valentine’s comments that motivated him. Youkilis will scoff at the notion, but much like the idea that these comments are that serious, reality is irrelevant.

It’s a tactic. Because it’s Valentine, the masses are overreacting as if they were waiting for something like this, heard it as the loud pop of a starting pistol and exploded out of the blocks as fast as they could. Social media and the proliferation of commenters exacerbates the issue in ways unheard of when Valentine was last managing in the big leagues in 2002.

Either way, it’s why Valentine was hired—to stir things up in ways Francona never did.

Maybe it’ll work. And maybe it won’t.

That it happened at all shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s watched and listened to Bobby Valentine over the past 25 years. Perhaps the Red Sox selected him over the other candidates because those other candidates would’ve been happy to have the job and done whatever they needed to do to keep the peace including enabling the players like Francona did.

Valentine, as his comments prove, won’t.

He’s not Francona.

That’s why they hired him.

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The Negative Validation of Bobby V

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In his first opportunity to show that he’s learned from his mistakes, all Bobby Valentine proved was that he hasn’t changed.

He’s a great manager and a self-destructive force who will insist on going down his way.

That’s not a good thing.

Last season, when Terry Collins took over the Mets after a 10-year absence from managing in the big leagues, many who knew him and his intense, overbearing ways didn’t think there would be a “new” Terry. At the first sign of trouble, he’d revert to the raving maniac that polarized two talented clubhouses and labeled him as an impossible person to deal with.

Collins is still intense and fiery, but has toned down his act to discipline his clubhouse while not alienating it.

The Red Sox veterans viewed the hiring of Valentine with, at best, trepidation.

Throughout spring training the media tried to stoke the fires of controversy with everything Valentine did. From bunting to his lineup and bullpen decisions to the supposed “rift” between him and GM Ben Cherington, the traps were set for the “old” Bobby V—condescending, abrasive, uncontrollably arrogant, vindictive—to appear.

For the most part he kept himself in check.

But on opening day he reverted to the old Bobby V in one of the worst ways imaginable.

In the past, one issue he constantly had was the way he ran his clubs in a self-interested, paranoid, cold-hearted fashion.

The players didn’t trust him because he didn’t trust them.

The list of players with whom Valentine had public dust-ups included Todd Hundley, Pete Harnisch, Darryl Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, Goose Gossage and David Wells.

Wells never actually played for Valentine.

Yesterday Valentine contradicted himself, the organizational strategy based on stats and told the players that he didn’t trust them to do their defined jobs.

One argument that stat people constantly use is to adhere to the percentages. That’s evolved into the rote maneuver of never using the “closer” in a tie game on the road unless they have no choice. Valentine had a choice.

Of course it’s ridiculous to cling to an ironclad strategy to be used in the face of reason, experience and situation, but the one thing Valentine did not want to do—on opening day!!!—is to give the veteran players a reason to start bashing him behind his back more than they already are.

By using Mark Melancon in the tie game and then panicking by yanking Melancon after, with one out, the next two Tigers’ hitters in the tenth inning got on base with balls that were conveniently placed and not hit hard, he told the players something they already suspected and were presumably whispering about from the time he was hired: he’s a mircomanager who won’t put the game in our hands.

Contrast that with Charlie Manuel—a manager the players love and run to play for.

Manuel was criticized in recent years because he stuck with Brad Lidge too long as closer when Lidge couldn’t get anyone out; for letting Jimmy Rollins run wild with his outrageous statements; for letting Ryan Howard swing on a 3-0 count in the NLDS last season with his team down a run and Howard in a horrific slump.

But for all of his perceived strategic lapses, the players know what they’re getting from Cholly privately because that’s what they get publicly.

Cholly’s got their backs because his actions are in the front.

He gives his players rope and if they hang themselves and the team with it, so be it.

Can Valentine say that?

Right off the bat, he’s telling Melancon, the entire roster and upper management that he doesn’t think much of a pitcher he’s going to need to do well if the Red Sox are going to contend.

This is not a defense of Melancon, who I think is mediocre, it’s a statement that even if they’d lost with Melancon (which they wound up doing anyway with “closer” Alfredo Aceves), it would’ve been a better conclusion because Valentine wouldn’t have immediately validated the players’ fears about him.

If the players believe the manager is out for himself—trying not to be criticized; always holding his finger over the panic button; nitpicking—they’re going to tune out and quickly look at their own situations superceding team goals.

With most managers it would be judged as one game in a 162 game season. With Valentine it’s a signal that he hasn’t changed; that he’s still going to ignore his mandate; that he’ll shun long-term harmony for one game desperation.

The Red Sox had better start winning games fast or by early May the ticking time bomb that is Valentine in that mercurial clubhouse will be set to detonate.

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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.

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Precision Strikes 6.26.2011

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Sedition.

While I’m aware my resistance will be frowned up on by the self-proclaimed “gatekeeper” Jason Zillo—Yankees media director with his eye on being Emperor—I’m safe under the protection of my supporters, friends and associates.

Others may not be so lucky.

Rebel against the would-be dictator at your own risk and earn my unending admiration for speaking out against a little nobody who thinks he’s somebody.

Read my posting from yesterday to understand what I’m talking about as respected writer Michael Sokolove authored a piece involving (but not entirely about) Derek Jeter for the NY Times Magazine and was denied access to the Yankees clubhouse by “Zillo the All-Powerful”.

You don’t need to worry; nor do you need to look over both shoulders for such acts of Yankeeland illegality because Zillo is a nobody who can’t do nothin’.

Don’t tell him because he evidently doesn’t know. Shhhhh.

Hack recognition software.

Joel Sherman’s new profile picture in the NY Post is leading me to wonder if he’s pulling a Whitey Bulger and resorting to facial surgery in trying to avoid detection for safety’s sake if he ever decides to plagiarize me again. (Scroll down to the “Hmmmm…..” bulletpoint on the link.)

Even if he somehow transforms his face into looking like Brad Pitt (or Billy Beane; or Brad Pitt as Billy Beane), I’ll recognize him from his awful, cheap-shot laden baseball “analysis”.

I see you….

Outsources.

Is it possible for “sources” to be accurate once-in-a-while?

The reports of Davey Johnson taking over as manager of the Nationals appear to be true, but there numerous details of his contract status, whether he’ll be there for longer than this season, whether John McLaren will stay on as a coach or follow Jim Riggleman out the door of career-suicide—and we don’t know what’s real since it changes with the wind.

Are there sources? Are writers making this up as they go along? Are they “whispers” of the Mike Francesa adolescent embellishment (non-existent) variety? Are they nuggets dropped into the public sphere to gauge the reaction? Or all of the above?

Defense.

Ryan Ludwick might be the worst outfielder I’ve ever seen—and that’s saying something because I watched Todd Hundley briefly play left field when the Mets wanted to get him and Mike Piazza into the same lineup.

Ludwick runs to where the ball appears to be landing and throws his glove up—facing the wrong way—at least once every time I watch a Padres game.

Needless to say, he doesn’t catch the ball.

The haplessness isn’t nullified even though he doesn’t get an error.

It happened again in the Padres 10-1 loss to the Braves last night and helped open the floodgates to turn a 3-1 deficit into 6-1 in the eighth inning. The Braves scored 4 times in the ninth to make it a blowout.

He doesn’t hit enough to justify being in the lineup every day, let alone batting 4th the majority of the time…except for the Padres, whose offense is atrocious.

Mail.

Norm writes:

As a Jays and occasional Mets fan, I was wondering what you think of the chances of a trade involving David Wright…say wright and pagan for lawrie, thames and aminor league pitcher or 2, or wright straight up for lawrie plus 2 minor league pitchers?

I would trade Wright for Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames.

I dunno what the Blue Jays would want with Angel Pagan.

But the Mets aren’t trading Wright and the Blue Jays aren’t making that trade.

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