The Blue Jays: New Management, Talented Players, Same Mediocre Results

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The Blue Jays have to start winning some games.

Going back to the J.P. Ricciardi years, they’ve been on the verge of something special only to have circumstances on and off the field sabotage them. During that time they were unfortunate enough to be trapped in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox when those clubs were at the height of their rivalry and powers. Then from 2008 onward, they not only had the Yankees and Red Sox to deal with, but the young and hungry Rays rose to prominence as well.

The Ricciardi Blue Jays teams are seen as a retrospective failure in the context of Moneyball because Ricciardi was widely quoted in the book and was the one GM who closely approximated the strategies therein. They also spent money to try and win and didn’t.

Objectively those Blue Jays teams—especially the 2003, 2006 and 2008 squads—would’ve made the playoffs had they been housed in a less imposing division. Sometimes it breaks that way.

Ricciardi was perceived negatively because of Moneyball blowback; due to his un-GM-like proclivity for speaking his mind rather than in the circles favored by the new age GMs; and that he had public dustups (most of his own doing) with media members, players and coaches on his team and others. He made mistakes; he wasn’t a bad GM.

When Ricciardi was fired after the 2009 season, his replacement Alex Anthopoulos immediately made his presence felt with aggressiveness; a less polarizing personality; and fearlessness. He knew the numbers and was also willing to take chances on talented players who might not light up a rotisserie league team, but could contribute to his club in other ways.

The first year of a new regime is generally a freebie but in 2010 as they moved past the days of Ricciardi and the traded Roy Halladay, they rode Jose Bautista’s shocking rise to 54 homers, a power-laden and homer-hungry lineup and a pretty good starting rotation to an 85-77 finish.

Anthopoulos began to put his stamp on the club following 2010 as he hired his own manager, John Farrell, to replace Cito Gaston. He traded for Brett Lawrie; amazingly found a taker for Vernon Wells’s contract while only paying $5 million to cover a portion of it; and signed Bautista to a contract extension.

The 2011 Blue Jays ended at .500. They were a team to watch for 2012.

The original idea was to watch them as they rose in the standings. Instead we’re watching them and wondering why they’re still at .500.

It’s June 14th and they’re sitting at 31-32, tied for last place in the AL East with the Red Sox.

Injuries have robbed them of closer Sergio Santos and starter Brandon Morrow. Kyle Drabek left his start on Wednesday with a popping sensation in his elbow. Adam Lind didn’t hit and was dispatched to the minors, unlikely to return. Colby Rasmus is playing identically to the player who was the rope in a tug-of-war between his former manager with the Cardinals Tony LaRussa and his dad Tony Rasmus. Manager Farrell allows his players to run the bases with abandon and steal bases at odd times.

Are these excuses or are they reasons?

The American League East has five teams that are either over .500 or within one game of .500. But earlier this season, the division was wide open with the Yankees pitching failing them and Mariano Rivera out for the season. The Red Sox were playing terribly and infighting. The Rays lost Evan Longoria for an extended period.

And the Blue Jays didn’t take advantage.

Again.

What should be most galling to the Blue Jays and their fans is that it was the Orioles—that perpetual doormat—that jumped to the top of the division with a stunning run of solid fundamental play and led by a far superior strategic manager to Farrell, the experienced Buck Showalter.

At what point does the Blue Jays’ building and rebuilding end and do expectations and demands replace the mantra of “patience”?

There was enough talent on the Blue Jays during the Ricciardi years that they could’ve made the playoffs 2-3 times with a little better luck and a less difficult division. Now they have as much if not more talent in a weaker division and they remain trapped in the vacancy of mediocrity.

When does it stop?

Eventually the Blue Jays have to get past the “we’re building” excuse and start winning some games; to become a legitimate contender when there’s an extra playoff spot to be won and they have the talent and the opening to win it.

Yet here they are at .500 and looking for that missing piece to put them over the top.

Over the top of what is unknown. Is it over the top of the “mountain” of .500? Or is it over the top of their divisional rivals to make some noise in the regular season as something other than a cool pick for the prognosticators who’ll repeat the process from November to February and fall back to what they are?

I don’t know.

And nor do they.

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How About LaRussa Back To The White Sox?

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The White Sox have accomplished something rare in Chicago: they’re more embarrassing than the Cubs.

Sure, the White Sox have a better record than the Cubs, but they have a lot more talent; no one reasonable was expecting anything more than mediocrity from the Cubs this year and they’ve been terrible; but the White Sox are a train wreck and GM Kenny Williams is going to do something drastic.

The time has passed for him to trade half his roster and he was right to hold his fire at the deadline. They were only 3 games out of first place and had played better to reach .500. Since then, they look like they’ve started their off-season early.

Ozzie Guillen has been rumored to be on the hotseat so many other times and was never fired; he has a contract for next year so there is reason to believe he’ll be back.

But there’s also reason to believe he won’t.

The Marlins wanted Guillen this past winter and the White Sox players don’t seem to be responding to him anymore. The easiest thing to do is to bring in a new manager rather than a boatload of new players especially with the immovable contracts the White Sox have.

The obvious choice in a chain-of-command style scenario would be Joey Cora, but Williams thinks outside the box and does what he wants. Another name I’d expect to be floated is the man who came in second to Guillen when Guillen was hired: Cito Gaston. Gaston didn’t look like he wanted to retire from the Blue Jays after last year and with Jack McKeon and Davey Johnson back in the dugout, it’s not as much of an anomaly to have a much older manager. Gaston will be 68 starting next season.

But how about Tony LaRussa returning to finish his managerial career where he started it?

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is still close with LaRussa and the Cardinals are in flux despite their flurry of moves to placate the manager and win now.

In fact, the series of trades—that could be referred to as desperate—could be framed as having been made to win immediately in a last ditch effort to close out the LaRussa-era as a winner.

Could the Cardinals be preparing for a future without Albert Pujols just in case he does leave after the season? And would LaRussa have any interest in managing the Cardinals without Pujols?

He’s going year-to-year with his Cardinals contracts and with the rampant dysfunction that’s coming to light with the fight between Yadier Molina and Gerald Laird and the multitude of issues between LaRussa and Tony Rasmus that expedited Colby Rasmus being traded, maybe he and the Cardinals would like to go their separate ways.

If Pujols leaves, the Cardinals are going to be severely compromised in 2012 and at his age (LaRussa will be 67), does he need the aggravation of a Cardinals clubhouse sans Pujols and little chance to win?

The White Sox will have a lot of talent on the roster in 2012 and are ready-made to contend—a perfect spot for LaRussa in both practice and aesthetics.

It’d take a lot for it to happen, but it’s a viable landing spot for a 2-3 year window to try and win another championship and go out in the venue where he came in.

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Hate The Game, Don’t Hate Tim Tebow Or ESPN

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Having heard what ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge said about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, I don’t see what the big deal is. He stated his opinion about whether or not Tebow’s style will work in the NFL. (He doesn’t think it will.)

You can listen to a small portion of what Hoge said on the Mut and Merloni radio show on WEEI here.

Naturally others chimed in as the story took on a life of its own and none other than LeBron James took to Twitter to defend Tebow.

Much of the vitriol directed at Tebow is similar to the hate that engulfs Brett Favre and Alex Rodriguez—they get a lot of attention from ESPN.

What you need to realize is that the likes of A-Rod, Tebow and Favre are only playing an off-field game that’s not a competition, but is a business.

Tebow, A-Rod and Favre generate attention, webhits, ratings and the resulting advertising dollars. These things are studied, paid attention and adhered to. So when ESPN is called “NESPN” and is accused of catering to the Red Sox, it’s not done out of allegiance; it’s done because that’s what people search for. Once that stops, so too will the non-story-stories that pop up all over the place.

People were interested in the Colby Rasmus and his dad Tony Rasmus and Colby’s departure from the Cardinals; how their father/son/coach relationship affected the Cardinals organization and manager Tony LaRussa.

It’s a terrific tale of a Hall of Fame manager clashing with the dad of a hot prospect.

Because that’s what was in demand, that’s what was provided. It’s purely democratic and is how lines get blurred with what’s legitimate reporting or wagging the dog to deliver a fast food style meal for the web surfers.

Who knows whether Tebow can play in the NFL or not? There have been players who were supposed to be stars in every sport but haven’t for one reason or another; the same thing works in the opposite direction as there are athletes from whom nothing is expected and they suddenly burst onto the scene due to late development, opportunity or connecting with the right coach/manager/team at the right time.

Don’t blame Tebow or ESPN. Blame yourself for partaking in it.

If you’re going to ESPN for hard-hitting sports journalism, then you deserve your fate.

Ignore it and it’ll go away.

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Viewer Mail 8.1.2011

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Colby Rasmus, Tony Rasmus, Tony LaRussa and Mark McGwire:

The main problem was Colby’s daddy was telling him to flat out IGNORE McGwire, TLR and staff… to be insubordinate. I remember dads like him, from little league. The bane of everyone if I recall.

I’m not surprised. We’ve all seen the little league dads with varying results. I try to be positive in situations like this and think it could’ve been smoothed over and a consensus reached, but maybe it couldn’t. I’m getting the impression that the Cardinals veteran baseball men—LaRussa, et al.—weren’t all that impressed with Colby when they unwrapped the package and saw what he was; with the aggravation on top of that, it was best to part ways.

Joe (DaGodfather on Twitter) writes RE the Phillies:

Did you hear the rumor about the Phillies and Pirates? Pirates send us McCutchen and we send them our overflow of fans.

Which McCutchen? Andrew McCutchen or Daniel McCutchen? Andrew’s my new man-crush; Daniel, not so much.

Gabriel writes RE the Blue Jays:

One thing’s clear: Anthopoulous gets what he wants. I’m sad to see Rzep go, I liked him a lot, and Anthopoulous seems sad to see him go.

Alex Anthopoulos walked into a bit of disarray when he took the Blue Jays job, but had a clear plan and is showing a resolute fearlessness which bodes well. He wanted Rasmus, he got Rasmus. I like Marc Rzepczynski, but he wasn’t someone to hold out of a desired trade for a 25-year-old bat.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Jerry Meals and the blown call in the Braves-Pirates game:

My biggest problem with Meals was that he made multiple awful ball/strike calls the entire night and was highly arrogant about it. At least Joyce admitted his mistake, Meals basically sounded like “I guess it might have been wrong, but it’s my god given right to make whatever call I damn well feel like” without using those exact words.

We’ve come a long way from the umpires flat out refusing to admit a mistake as a form of machismo or reluctance to show weakness, so Meals saying he probably blew it is a step forward. There are good umps and bad umps. We lose sight of the number of accurate calls they make in a game when they blow one. I’d say the umpiring overall is quite good considering that volume.

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LaRussa Won’t Maintain Radio Silence With Tony Rasmus

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If I were advising Colby Rasmus‘s dad, Tony Rasmus, I’d tell him to shut up.

It’s enough.

He protected his son—that’s clear. He also interfered with the way the Cardinals and manager Tony LaRussa handled him—that too is clear.

There was a rift somewhere and my guess is both parties are at fault. When you’re dealing with an old-school, thin-skinned veteran manager like LaRussa and an involved parent, this endless spitting contest is not going to do any good at all for the player—especially a player that was coached by his dad and is sensitive in his own right.

Tony Rasmus was a guest on a St. Louis radio program—The Sports Zone with Rob Rains and B.J. Rains Weekdays 1-3 on SportsRadio 1380—and discussed his son, the Cardinals and LaRussa.

You can listen here.

Following the interview, LaRussa had no comment.

We all know that’s not going to last. He’ll reply because: A) people are going to keep asking about it until he detonates; and B) he’s LaRussa.

It’s going to eat at LaRussa. He’s so competitive and intense that it extends to everyone knowing he’s a genius, telling him he’s a genius and he must-must-must have the last word.

The one thing I don’t understand is why the Cardinals are so uptight about Colby getting help from his dad. If it helps the player in any way—gives him some peace of mind or whatever—why not?

There’s a territorial fiefdom in baseball that managers feel so threatened when their handpicked coaches are “usurped” by an outsider—father or not—that they instantly rebel and react when there’s encroachment into that arena.

I believe it could’ve been smoothed over, but maybe it couldn’t.

Here’s the end result: Colby and Tony Rasmus are the Blue Jays problems/attributes now; LaRussa won another organizational skirmish with the diametrically opposed voices in his front office; and the Cardinals took steps to win now and placate the manager.

It’s over. Everyone should move on.

But we know neither LaRussa nor Tony Rasmus will do that and again Colby will be the unwitting victim trapped in the middle of loyalty to his dad and the ire of a Hall of Fame manager.

Not a good place to be for a 25-year-old.

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Cardinals Concession?

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The Colby Rasmus trade is being chalked up to a blame-game on either Colby’s father Tony Rasmus, manager Tony LaRussa or both.

Tony Rasmus went on another tangent yesterday, mostly aimed at LaRussa.

Who’s to blame is largely irrelevant. Colby Rasmus is no longer a Cardinals player; Tony Rasmus is no longer a Cardinal gadfly; everyone can move on.

In the middle of his tirade, Tony Rasmus brought up an interesting point with the following from the linked piece in the Toronto Sun:

Jeff Luhnow, the Cards’ vice-president of player procurement, made Rasmus his first pick in the 2005 draft, causing La Russa, according to Tony Rasmus, to “make cracks how Colby was Luhnow’s boy and that led to (former GM) Walt Jocketty leaving.”

There was a known rift between the Cardinals front office and LaRussa when Luhnow’s stat-based influence began to take hold. No longer did the organization defer to the teachings of LaRussa and his pitching coach Dave Duncan; ownership wanted to head in the direction of the stat “revolution” and eventually forced Jocketty out because of it.

LaRussa has had to play politics since then to get everything he wanted—something that would’ve been relatively automatic under Jocketty—and he’s been quite adept at it.

So you can understand the Rasmuses being a pawn in this struggle.

One has to wonder where the Cardinals are going with this as they’ve traded their most marketable young position player for a somewhat questionable return.

Are they going all-in now with the looming possibility of Albert Pujols leaving? With LaRussa going year-to-year and his continuing as Cardinals manager likely tied to Pujols staying or going? Are they consciously saying to themselves, “Look, if Pujols and LaRussa leave, we’re more than likely gonna hafta tear the whole thing down anyway and we’ll be terrible for 3-5 years, so let’s go for it now,”?

They’d never admit it publicly, but judging by the decisions that are being made now, it’s not a hard assessment to make.

In a way, it makes sense, but I’d have an ominous sense of foreboding for 2012 and beyond if I were a Cardinals fan. They’d better win in 2011 because if the worst case scenario happens, they’re not going to be a contender for quite awhile after this year.

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Soxfinger, Tony Tantrum And Another Casualty Of Moneyball

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Let’s do this in order.

First the White Sox traded Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays for veteran righty reliever Jason Frasor and 25-year-old minor league righty Zach Stewart.

This is not a “give-up on the season” trade by White Sox GM Kenny Williams (aka the James Bond villain known as Soxfinger). He dumped Teahen’s salary and gave up a pitcher in Jackson who they had no intention of keeping. Jackson’s good, but he’s represented by Scott Boras and the White Sox payroll is already bursting at the seams. It made sense to get a veteran reliever in Frasor to bolster the White Sox leaky bullpen.

In analyzing Stewart apart from what I can see in his minor league numbers, I’ll say this: it’s unwise to bet against Williams’s pitcher-recognition skills. It was Williams who acquired both Gavin Floyd and John Danks when neither were on anyone else’s radar; yes, he made the expensive and retrospectively mistaken decision to acquire Jake Peavy, but Peavy is a former NL Cy Young Award winner—it just hasn’t worked out. You can give him a hard time for trading Daniel Hudson to get Jackson, but it’s not something to go crazy over.

Clearly Williams sees something in Stewart to inspire him to make this trade.

Teahen is another failure from the 2002 Billy Beane/Athletics “Moneyball” draft in which Beane and his staff were supposedly “counting cards” in selecting players.

No commentary needed as to how that worked out.

After that was done, the Blue Jays spun Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson and Octavio Dotel to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters.

Miller is supposedly going to to the White Sox.

Let’s find a rational explanation. Or two.

Once Jonny Gomes was off the market, did the Blue Jays feel they had to make a move on Rasmus? (Satirical.)

Was Joel Sherman wrong in the assertion that the Cardinals were asking for a “ton” in a Rasmus deal? (Likely.)

Did the Cardinals judge this return as a “ton”? (Possible.)

Or is it all of the above? (Hedging.)

All kidding(?) aside, this trade has Tony LaRussa‘s fingerprints all over it.

The curmudgeonly baseball manager/non-practicing lawyer that LaRussa is, he’ll deftly separate himself from the trade and deflect responsibility and evidence in all directions to save the man in the mirror.

It turns out my repeated statements that LaRussa’s doghouse was “entrance only” were mistaken; there’s an exit, but it happens to lead to another town on a questionable exchange policy.

LaRussa wanted Rasmus gone and this is another case in which the front office is appeasing the manager to try and win now.

That doesn’t make wrong the analysis that Rasmus was never going to fulfill his promise in St. Louis; nor that his “stage-father” Tony Rasmus wasn’t going to back away from interfering in his son’s career to let the Cardinals do what they wanted. It’s just the way it is.

On the surface, it’s a weak trade for the Cardinals.

Jackson’s a rental; as mentioned before, his agent is Boras and the Cardinals have got to save their money to keep Albert Pujols. Jackson’s a good pitcher and will help them.

The key for the Cardinals will be Rzepczynski. He’s spent this season in the bullpen and that may be where he is for the rest of the season with the Cardinals having traded Miller, but he’s got starter stuff and a gentle delivery that bodes well for his durability—he reminds me of Mark Mulder when he was in his prime. Had Mulder not had the hip problems, I believe his shoulder would’ve stayed in shape to continue pitching as well as he did for the Athletics early in his career and not had its premature end.

Patterson and Dotel are veterans from whom you know what to expect—such as that is.

The Blue Jays got themselves an everyday center fielder in Rasmus who won’t be saddled with the pressures he felt in St. Louis. A clean start might be exactly what he (and his dad) need to fulfill his promise.

For the White Sox, this is a move for the now and the future; for the Cardinals, it’s a move to improve immediately; and for the Blue Jays, they’re hoping to be in a legitimate position to contend in 2012—and I think they will be.

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Colby Rasmus And Daddy Issues

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During the Mets series against the Cardinals last week the broadcasters Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen were discussing Colby Rasmus, his father’s perceived interference and his relations with the club. To paraphrase Hernandez—whose own father was heavily involved with his career from beginning to end—it was basically, “my dad’s involved; my dad’s gonna be involved; deal with it”.

The Cardinals are apparently listening to offers for Rasmus. It’s largely irrelevant whether his father Tony’s interference in Colby’s career is a major part of that; that they feel trading him is their best possible bet to improve immediately; or that they simply don’t feel he’s as good as they thought he was when he was drafted.

The perception is that it’s because of his dad.

Teams are aware of a parent’s involvement when they draft him. Sometimes it works as it has with Tim Lincecum; other times it doesn’t with Eric Lindros and Gregg Jefferies.

Because Lincecum has been so tremendous, it’s somehow okay that his father set such ironclad decrees as to his the handling of his son. I’ve always been curious as to what Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum on a trip to the mound when the pitcher is struggling. Do they talk about the weather? Lincecum’s shampoo of choice for his long, lustrous hair?

The Giants allowed Lincecum to be separate from the rest of the group because he did well and they had a lot of money invested in him. If he was bad in the minors or was in danger of becoming a bust, how quickly would they have started to tweak his perfectly honed mechanics from which he was never supposed to deviate?

Rasmus has been up-and-down in his brief big league career; manager Tony LaRussa appears to have had enough of him; Albert Pujols publicly called out the youngster a year ago. He seems isolated and worn down by the public spitting contest between his stage-father and the team.

But the Cardinals had to have known all this when they drafted him. If he was hitting as he did earlier in the year, it wouldn’t be an issue; but he’s slumping, so it’s a problem.

Like Hernandez said, the dad’s involved—deal with it.

And the Cardinals may deal with it by dealing Rasmus. Then someone else will have to contend with his dad. They too will know what they’re walking into and accept it as a matter of course for getting the young talent of Colby Rasmus. Just like the Giants did with Lincecum and the Cardinals should have—and presumably did—with Rasmus.

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