Elephants, Donkeys and Cubs

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If a sports owner who decided he wanted to contribute money to a political Super PAC (Political Action Committee) that profiled presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as an unapologetic flip-flopper; someone who’s going to unleash the terrifying United States war machine on any and all countries that he deems as a vague “threat”; plans to cut taxes for the wealthy; take away Medicare, Medicaid and relegate the poor to what amounts to an inescapable cycle of poverty, would the media have reacted so indignantly as it has to the Joe Ricketts story?

I doubt it.

But because the patriarch of the Ricketts family that now owns the Chicago Cubs was interested in starting a Super PAC that was meant to rehash the inflammatory comments made by President Obama’s former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it’s considered an affront and the basis to engulf the politics of Joe Ricketts to his son Tom Ricketts’s attempts—as owner of the Cubs—to secure public financing to refurbish Wrigley Field.

Politics and presidential politics are seeping into baseball. Rather than focusing on the retirement of Kerry Wood, the “miracle” of Bryan LaHair, or what Theo Epstein’s going to do to rebuild the Cubs, the story is off-field issues.

Considering how things are going for the Cubs on the field, maybe that’s not as terrible as it seems.

Because the “big bad billionaire” wanted to use his money in a politically legal way, it’s transferred into his son’s running of the Cubs. There’s no connection. Even if there was, here’s a solution: prevent the public financing of the improvements to Wrigley Field through the political process.

Political tactics are what they are and it’s not outrageous to bring up Obama sitting by when Wright was making these statements about the United States; that political expediency led to his repudiation of what was said and he left the church out of necessity if he wanted to win the presidency.

The dredging of the Wright controversy isn’t on a level with absurd questioning of the validity of the president’s birth certificate or other silly intimations. It may have been settled to the satisfaction of enough people to elect Obama president in 2008, but it could also be used to assuage the fears about Romney’s Mormonism and convince skittish evangelical Christians to get out and vote for Romney.

It’s politics and is expected.

I’m curious if the reaction would be so widespread if it were a liberal owner who was trying to do “good for the masses” with a Super PAC instead of the “greedy, hoarding rich guy” who simply doesn’t want to pay as much in taxes as he is now and is using anything at his disposal to elect a president who’d help him achieve that end.

I doubt it would.

Either way, should this or any political affiliation be associated with the Cubs because there’s no link between Joe Ricketts’s proposed Super PAC and his son’s stewardship of a baseball team.

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National League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Earlier I looked at the American League’s ownerships that are (or should be) getting antsy.

Now, let’s look at the National League.

Miami Marlins

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Put it this way: in spite owner Jeffrey Loria’s past decisions that have been seen as running the gamut from unethical to outright illegal, he spent money on players and a manager this past winter.

With his pro-Fidel Castro comments, the manager they hired, Ozzie Guillen, put the organization in an embarrassing position and almost sunk the ship just after it had been christened. The new Marlins Park is located in Little Havana and they’re trying desperately to cultivate the baseball-loving Cuban-American crowd to bolster their attendance. That attendance is flagging. Guillen’s personality has appeared somewhat subdued following his suspension and apology. They didn’t hire Guillen-lite; they hired outrageous Ozzie who can manage players, win and draw attention to himself.

Clearly praising Castro didn’t fall into that mandate.

On the field, they’re 8-13 and 15th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their big-name free agents, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, have been terrible. Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton and Gaby Sanchez aren’t hitting. Ace Josh Johnson has gotten rocked in three of his five starts.

They’re not getting what they paid for.

What should be done?

Maybe that should be phrased: What could be done rather than what should be done.

They could demote Bell from the closer’s role, but won’t.

They could put the word out that they want to get rid of Hanley Ramirez, but won’t.

They could fire a couple of coaches, but won’t. (It would make Guillen look bad if his coaching staff was messed with in his first month on the job.)

There aren’t many “shoulds” that would help them more than the players and manager they signed/traded for doing their jobs and earning their paychecks.

What will be done?

Loria’s George Steinbrenner side has been evident since he bought his way into baseball.

He’s not going to jump out front and center yet. Within the next week, if the Marlins keep playing like this, Loria’s son-in-law/hatchet man/flunky/team president David Samson will utter a few choice comments in the media that will generate attention. There might be vague threats of looming changes or random, stream of consciousness demands that the manager and coaching staff “do something”.

If that doesn’t work, by May 20th or so, Loria will have his own explosion. Something—a demotion of a Sanchez or Stanton; a benching of Ramirez or Reyes; Bell being relegated to the seventh or eighth inning—will happen.

I can’t say he’s wrong either.

Chicago Cubs

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

No.

I’m quite sure that when Theo Epstein was anointed (not interviewed, anointed) to take over as team president, he told owner Tom Ricketts that the entire farm system needed to be rebuilt, he’d have to clear some dead weight from the big league roster and unless they got some above and beyond the call of duty returns to glory from the likes of Alfonso Soriano, they were going to have a lean year or two. Since Ricketts hired Epstein and let him bring in Jed Hoyer as GM and surrendered actual players to the Red Sox and Padres to get both, he accepted this analysis and is willing to deal with the fallout.

It helps that the Cubs’ fans’ loyalties are such that they’ll support the team whether they win 70 games or 90s games. In 2012, it’s going to be the former.

What should and what will be done?

Under Epstein, the Cubs will do what they should do.

They’ll get rid of Soriano at some point. Even with the remaining $54 million from 2012-2014, the money’s gone; he’s untradeable. Cutting him makes sense.

Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and even Geovany Soto will attract interest on the market and the Cubs can and should explore every opportunity to get multiple pieces and shave payroll to make themselves better for the year they’re planning on making a legitimate run: 2014.

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Avoid The Consolation Hire

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The Cubs have asked the Red Sox for permission to speak to GM Theo Epstein; one would assume that if Epstein would like to hear what the Cubs have to say, the Red Sox will allow him to do so.

If I were the Cubs, while I wouldn’t cater to the whims of the Red Sox by, say, taking John Lackey‘s contract as compensation to hire Epstein, nor would I do as has been suggested by some to take the consolation prize and hire Red Sox assistant Ben Cherington.

The idea of “same front office, same concepts, same philosophy” has merit in theory, but in practice? I don’t know.

If the Cubs talk to Cherington and make the decision that they’d prefer to go down that road rather than pay for the right to hire and pay Epstein while compensating the Red Sox, fine; but if it’s a next-tier choice to save money in the hopes that they’re getting “Mini-Theo”? I don’t think that’s a great idea.

The Padres hired Epstein’s former assistant Jed Hoyer to middling results so far; Paul DePodesta was an outright disaster when the Dodgers thought they were getting the Moneyball “genius” behind Billy Beane—in fact, because they thought they were getting the genius from Moneyball.

In today’s game the GM has to be able to handle the media and the scrutiny of a large segment of every fan base that has access to the same stats and relentless information and uses them to criticize everything from a minor league trade to how players wear their socks.

People forget that Epstein got the Red Sox job after Beane backed out on an agreed-upon deal. Epstein became the “face” of the franchise who was versed in stats, had experience all aspects of a front office; was a Boston-kid; and would answer to Larry Lucchino; Lucchino was calling many of the shots behind the scenes without having to deal with the media or do the GM grunt work. This is why there was such a big explosion when Epstein’s contract expired after the 2005 season over power, credit and exactly whom was in charge.

To simplistically say they should hire an assistant because he’s cheaper is a DePodesta-style mistake in the making and given the time that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is taking in scheduling interviews, he doesn’t want to jump into a hire because it would be well-received; he wants to hire someone who he feels is the right person for the job, as he should.

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Theo Epstein And The Cubs

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We’re hearing all sorts of rumors of whom the Cubs might pursue to be their General Manager, but no one has apparently been, y’know, interviewed.

Apart from doling contract extensions to people who are already in the organization, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hasn’t said much of anything as to what he’s looking for in new GM.

The Billy Beane talk appears to have come and gone and was mostly on the side of Beane and his minions because Beane wants out of Oakland. I thought for sure that it would happen, but the Cubs don’t look interested. Maybe they studied Beane’s actual accomplishments and didn’t partake in the propaganda from Michael Lewis and Hollywood.

Now with the Red Sox in disarray, Theo Epstein’s name is out there.

I’m not buying it.

First, if a big name GM is going to take a job—any job—he won’t want to walk in with a staff in place. He’ll want to bring in his own people. Since Ricketts gave a 4-year contract extension to farm director Oneri Fleita and clearly wants scouting director Tim Wilken to stay, I have to wonder whether the new GM will already be handcuffed when he walks in the door and would willingly accept such immediate constraints.

In terms of compensation for hiring an Epstein-type, are the Cubs going to start giving up players for a GM?

In a practical sense, the Cubs just fired a GM, Jim Hendry, who’d spent a load of money for limited gain.

Um, anyone notice anything about the Red Sox of 2010-2011?

Why go down that road again and do so with a GM upon whom you’ve already placed shackles with the staff contract extensions? Why put out the perception that the GM isn’t in charge of everything he’s supposedly in charge of as he takes the job?

I don’t see the Cubs going down the road of a “name” GM unless one falls into their laps.

I see them hiring someone younger who is probably a currently respected assistant. The Jerry DiPoto-type would be a far better choice than hiring Epstein under the current circumstances even if Epstein wants to go to the Cubs.

Beane wanted it too and look what’s happened there. He’s trapped in a crowded movie theater surrounded by sycophants and a bad team.

Creative non-fiction was better than reality and that’s coming to light with each questioning glance as to why, if he’s a “genius”, his team is so awful.

It’s simplistic, but truth has met accuracy.

They’re not always the same.

In this case though? They are.

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Rosenthal’s Report On The Red Sox, Marlins And Cubs

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Ken Rosenthal discusses several baseball situations in the video report here.

If Rosenthal’s doomsday scenario for the Red Sox comes to pass, they’ll need a series of psychiatrists not to help them get through the grief of blowing a playoff spot, but to try to come to a realistic conclusion why they’d dump the perfect manager for the organization and the city, Terry Francona.

Mike Francesa said the other day (I’m paraphrasing) that the Red Sox are crazy if they fire Francona. He’s right.

They could pull the trick they did with Grady Little and “choose not to renew his contract”—in essence, fire him without firing him; but Francona would be out of work for maybe 5 seconds. He’s not a great strategic manager, but he controls the clubhouse; makes most of the correct maneuvers; handles the media; and will win if you give him the players. Add in that the Red Sox issues are not his fault and it’s absurd to make him the scapegoat. There are things more important than negligible strategic decisions.

With Rosenthal’s foreboding “all bets are off” with the team if they miss the playoffs, it sounds worse that the reality. I don’t know what they could do in terms of players to shake things up. I suppose they could clear out some of the longtime veterans like Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon; maybe they could consider trading Kevin Youkilis; apart from that, there’s not much they can do. They’d love to be rid of John Lackey and may find a taker for him in a contract exchange, but that’s about it.

The relentless speculation of big names with their eyes on the Cubs job is already tiresome.

Now it’s Larry Beinfest of the Marlins.

Beinfest has worked for Jeffrey Loria for years—is the wackiness accompanying that something new? Signed through 2015 and the president of baseball operations, Beinfest has about as much say as a baseball executive is going to get—this concept of “full autonomy” doesn’t exist anywhere. A year ago Loria refused to let the Mets talk to Dan Jennings, GM Michael Hill or Beinfest; what’s the difference from last year to this year?

Is Beinfest really whispering to people that he’d be interested in the Cubs or was he chatting with someone in casual, meaningless conversation and said, “man, I’d love to get my hands on the Cubs”?

There’s a difference between wanting the job or musing over what-ifs like a teenage girl drooling about the werewolf guy from Twilight. (I’m not bothering to look up his name; you know who I’m talking about.)

Watch Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hire someone young and new like Jerry DiPoto and shun the big names.

As always with the lusty media members pushing certain people for selfish agendas, my advice for Ricketts is buyer beware; hire the person you want and not who the media tries to manipulate you into hiring for their own selfish ends.

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Ricketts Should Not Fall For “The Verducci Effect”

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I’m not referring to a writer’s research and guidelines on how to use pitchers.

I’m talking about the hiring of a GM.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is receiving endless streams of suggestions, cajoling and none-too-clever infomercial style second and third hand job applications for GM candidates. The most prominent of which being Billy Beane.

Hopefully—for Cubs fans—Ricketts performs his due diligence, conducts interviews and hires the person he wants to hire and not because a Beane acolyte keeps suggesting it or thinks “Beane to the Cubs” would be a juicy story.

In his latest piece, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote the following regarding Beane and the Cubs:

Beane, once excited about a chance to work with money on the prospect of team moving to San Jose, must understand that Oakland is a dead end job. The club will have posted five straight losing seasons, plays in a football stadium and is no closer to getting an okay to relocate. Beane turns 50 next year, and like great GMs of his era — Pat Gillick, John Schuerholtz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, etc. — he needs the challenge of heading another organization for personal growth, if not legacy. Beane is signed through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff will not stand in the way if Beane decides to leave.

“I think it’s something Billy might consider,” said one friend. “I’ll tell you this: if they ever get Billy to come in for an interview, it’s his job. That’s how good he is.”

Personal growth?

Is Verducci referring to Beane’s ridiculous reputation as a genius or his ginormous ego?

These nuggets coming from “friends” and “those close to Beane” are plants because Beane wants out of Oakland; he wants in to the Cubs; and the media and those close to him who may have something invested in Beane being seen as this all-knowing seer of all things baseball are trying to grease the skids and influence Ricketts to make it happen.

Verducci is the same man who wrote a piece in Sports Illustrated weeks ago defending Beane as the Athletics are—again—crumbling around him; he’s also one of the multitudes who picked the A’s to win the AL West this season.

How is it possible to receive credit without the allocation of blame?

So the A’s were good enough to pick to win the division independent of a bad ballpark and indifferent fan base before the season, yet those are two of the reasons the A’s have collapsed to 14 games under .500 and the situation is now a “dead end job”?

The A’s imported 5 “name” players this past winter—Grant Balfour; Hideki Matsui; David DeJesus; Josh Willingham; Brian Fuentes—to join a solid starting starting rotation; they were picked to win…and the team is a disaster.

He fired his manager.

And the team is a disaster.

Beane was supposedly a “genius” because he had no money to work with and somehow found a way to win; now he’s still a “genius” and “that’s how good he is” in spite of annual failures and betrayal of the tenets that crafted his “genius” to begin with?

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t matter how many laudatory and patently ridiculous books are written; it’s irrelevant how much dramatic license is taken in a movie and who’s playing the protagonist; and it’s meaningless how many writers pop up to defend the indefensible with increasingly ludicrous alibis that you’d have to be bottom-line stupid to believe.

Ricketts may choose to hire Beane and Beane might do a good job, but like last season when the likes of Joel Sherman were pushing-pushing-pushing Sandy Alderson on the Mets, it has to be the decision of the man or men in charge that this is who I want running my club.

Writers have an agenda with Beane; understand that before doing what the media and fans want because they’re not the ones who are ultimately responsible for the aftermath.

And Verducci spelled “Schuerholz” wrong too.

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McKeon And The Marlins; Beane And The Cubs

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Jack McKeon‘s future.

It feels strange to talk about the future of someone who’s 81, but Marlins manager Jack McKeon has dismissed a report that a decision has been made as to whether he’s going to manage the next year.

I can say right now that he’s not going to manage next year.

The Marlins need to move on with someone else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a manager who’s 35. There are veteran coaches like Pete Mackanin who deserve a chance and have acquitted themselves well in brief, interim shots at the main job. John Gibbons would be a good choice for a young team that needs discipline and someone who doesn’t take crap.

That’s similar to McKeon except McKeon can’t (I don’t think) beat them up if they step totally out of line; Gibbons can.

There have been the oft-mentioned names affiliated with the Marlins like Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine as well.

Suffice it to say it won’t be McKeon.

I was against the McKeon hiring because I didn’t think it would work. The team’s played about as poorly under McKeon as they did under Edwin Rodriguez; the discipline issues—on and off the field—haven’t really been eliminated either. It remains to be seen whether the tough love shown to Logan Morrison among others will yield the results they want.

McKeon sounds agreeable to managing for a full year in 2012, but he’s not going to get the chance.

Please call…please call…

Like the once popular teenage boy whose reputation was crafted and has been undone by reality, Billy Beane has done everything but send a video of himself in a Cubs hat celebrating the future championship he’s going to win for Tom Ricketts and the long-suffering fans on the North Side of Chicago.

Speculation is rampant and clearly planted with an agenda as in pieces like this by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Multiple high-ranking A’s officials” have said the Cubs have yet to contact Beane. These are strategic leaks and they’re clearly done with between-the-lines statements from people involved with Beane that he wants out of Oakland and is after the Cubs job.

Beane wants the Cubs, but do the Cubs want Beane?

I say yes. And that’s where he’s going.

Results of the marriage pending.

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Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano And The Cubs GM Search

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The Cubs are looking for a new general manager and will presumably be looking for a new manager as well. It would best serve Tom Ricketts and his ownership to hire the new GM and let him select his own manager rather than bow to pockets of public pressure to bring Ryne Sandberg back to the organization. It’s been written that Sandberg would be willing to come back now that Hendry is gone.

Would Sandberg have done much better with this Cubs group than the man Hendry selected, Mike Quade? Maybe he’d have had the cachet as a Hall of Fame player to reach Carlos Zambrano, but apart from that the team is what it is and wasn’t going to be much better than this.

I completely understand what Hendry was thinking in both the realistic and Machiavellian senses when he decided against Sandberg. As I’ve said repeatedly when the “perfect” or popular choice is passed over for one reason or another, the manager can’t be seen as more powerful than the GM. Steve Phillips and Brian Cashman of the Mets and Yankees respectively shunned the focus group choice for new manager—Lou Piniella—and it wasn’t a pure baseball decision. No GM in his right mind if going to willingly hire a manager he can’t fire; a manager who won’t listen to his titular “boss” because he doesn’t have to listen to him. Piniella was quite effective at leveraging his popularity with fans and the media to force his will on the organization. With the Cubs, it worked briefly, but that success petered out and left the club with onerous contracts like that of Alfonso Soriano.

So why would Hendry, whose job was clearly and accurately on the line, hire Sandberg and marginalize himself? He didn’t and lost his job anyway, but the same thing probably would’ve happened had he hired Sandberg, so at least he went down with the manager he preferred rather than what would’ve been palatable to Cubs’ fans.

As for the team itself, despite the perception of disarray, they’re in good shape to get better quickly regardless of the new GM.

Starter Ryan Dempster is noncommittal about his 2012 player option with the club, but the Cubs should absolutely be hoping that Dempster returns. For $14 million, you’re getting 200 innings and consistency; if his services were to be purchased on the open market, he’d receive 3-4 years and around $16 million per season—ore more. It helps that he doesn’t sound as if he wants to leave the Cubs, but the question becomes whether he’d like to use his player option as a hammer to extract an extension from the new GM. If he does, I’d consider it…within reason.

The 2012 projected starting rotation for the Cubs is already in good shape with Dempster, Matt Garza, Casey Coleman and….Carlos Zambrano.

As the smoke has cleared from Zambrano’s latest explosion in which he “retired” then “unretired” and was suspended without pay for 30 days, cooler heads have to prevail.

Everyone—myself included—said that Zambrano had to be released because no one was going to take his contract and baggage. But throwing $18 million into the trash is not the way to do business; short of releasing him, what are the Cubs going to do with Zambrano? Depending on who’s hired as the GM, there’s always a chance that the new manager and pitching coach will be able to get sledgehammer Zambrano’s thick head to get something of use from him in the final year of his contract. This suggestion will and should generate eye-rolls and sighs of resignation, but unless the Cubs take a Barry Zito-type contract, they’re paying Zambrano; if they’re going to do that, they might as well try to rehabilitate him and release him if he acts up again.

Either way, it should be up to the new GM.

Aramis Ramirez‘s club option is a no-brainer and should be picked up.

The only things the Cubs can do is look at their current situation and accept that this is what they have for now and they have to make the best of it. Soriano’s going nowhere, but with Dempster and Ramirez both coming back and a tweak here and there with the fresh air of a new baseball regime, they could jump back into contention by next season.

All of this implies continue bad news for Sandberg in his quest to be Cubs manager: if the GM is from outside the organization and is going to be allowed to do what he wants, he’s not hiring a legend in the city to manage the team either because of the aforementioned power issue; so Sandberg have to continue his huff with the Phillies Triple A team and wait. Again.

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