ALCS Prediction and Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers

Cy Young Award, Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Red Sox: Take advantage of the Tigers exhaustion; get into the Tigers bullpen; keep the games close late.

The Tigers just finished getting through a long and tough series against the Athletics. They’re a veteran team that’s probably half-relieved to have gotten through the ALDS and half-emotionally exhausted from the difficulty they had winning the series. If the Red Sox jump out and hit them immediately, the Tigers might conserve their energy for the next night.

The Tigers have the advantage in starting pitching, but when it comes to the bullpen the Tigers don’t have a trustworthy closer. Jim Leyland will push his starters as far as he can.

If the games are close late, the Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit is not battle-tested in the role and might crack.

Keys for the Tigers: Ride their starters deep; jump on the Red Sox questionable middle-relief; hope that Miguel Cabrera’s legs are feeling better.

The Tigers have a significant starting pitching advantage and have to use it. In the ALDS, Leyland mistrusted his bullpen to the degree that he used probable AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in relief. His starters have not been babied by being yanked at 100 pitches. They have the ability to go deeper into games and will be helped by the cool weather and the post-season adrenaline.

The Red Sox middle-relief core is supposed to be “better” with Ryan Dempster out there. That’s not my idea of better and he’s the type of pitcher the Tigers will hammer. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman aren’t a who’s who of great relievers either.

The Tigers have a lineup full of bashers with Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter buttressing Cabrera, but Cabrera is the hub around which the Tigers offense is built. If he’s still compromised – and there’s no reason to think he won’t be considering his inability to move in the ALDS – then they might struggle to score.

What will happen:

Game three is almost as if the Red Sox are punting it, scheduling John Lackey to pitch against a hot Justin Verlander. The first two games have evenly matched starting pitchers. David Ortiz is 3 for 3 with two homers in his career against game one starter Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers will be very careful with Ortiz and that puts the rest of the lineup, specifically Mike Napoli, on the spot. If the Red Sox lose one of the first two games, they’re going to be in serious trouble with the game three matchup.

The Red Sox lineup is built on walks, power and being greater than the sum of its parts. The Tigers lineup is overall superior with their ability to hit and hit the ball out of the park. While Benoit is not a trustworthy closer, Koji Uehara’s longball troubles bit him in the ALDS. With this Tigers lineup, it has a good chance of happening again. The Red Sox will have to use Uehara. If the Tigers get depth from their starters, Leyland won’t hesitate to let them finish their games.

As much as a positive influence John Farrell has been on the Red Sox this season, he’s still does a large number of strange strategic things. The advantage in managers falls to the Tigers.

The Tigers have to win one of the first two games. If they do that, they’re going to win the series. And they will.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER




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Yaisel Puig and the All-Star Game

All Star Game, Games, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.

Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?

Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.

There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.

There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.

If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.

With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?

This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?

Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.

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2013 MLB Post-Season Predictions

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, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

You can see my 2013 MLB predicted standings in full here. Below are the division winners and wild card entrants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL EAST: Rays

AL CENTRAL: Tigers

AL WEST: Rangers

AL WILD CARD: Blue Jays

AL WILD CARD: Mariners

AL WILD CARD GAME: Mariners over Blue Jays

ALDS 1: Tigers over Mariners

ALDS 2: Rays over Rangers

ALCS: Rays over Tigers

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL EAST: Nationals

NL CENTRAL: Reds

NL WEST: Diamondbacks

NL WILD CARD: Braves

NL WILD CARD: Giants

NL WILD CARD GAME: Giants over Braves

NLDS 1: Giants over Nationals

NLDS 2: Reds over Diamondbacks

NLCS: Reds over Giants

WORLD SERIES: REDS OVER RAYS

In depth information packed in over 400 pages on all 30 teams with players’ height, weight, where they were drafted, age, contract status and how they were acquired is immediately available in my new book. In addition there is analysis of front offices, managers, starting rotations, bullpens, lineups, benches, fantasy picks, breakout candidates, trade candidates, predictions and essays on such diverse subjects as the Astros’ teardown and why it’s bad for baseball; Jeffrey Loria; the Yankees’ $189 million payroll; the pending free agency of Robinson Cano; Torii Hunter’s comments about the possibility of a gay teammate; Tim Lincecum, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and anything else you can think of is available in my new book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon, BN, Lulu, Smashwords and more outlets coming soon.

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Keys to 2013: Detroit Tigers

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, World Series

Starting Pitching Key: Justin Verlander

It’s easy to say, “pencil Verlander in for 18-24 wins; 240 innings; 250 strikeouts; consistent dominance; etc.” It’s not that easy to do it on an annual basis no matter how great a pitcher is. Verlander is their horse and everything feeds off of him. The Tigers have depth in the rotation they didn’t have in 2011 when Verlander won—and deserved—the MVP as well as the Cy Young Award. They’d be competitive on the field without him, but the teamwide mental strain of an arm problem for Verlander could open the floodgates to a collapse.

Relief Pitching Key: Bruce Rondon

There are already rumblings that manager Jim Leyland wants to sign former closer Jose Valverde as insurance in case rookie Rondon can’t do the job. Veteran managers whose careers are winding down don’t need aggravation and they certainly don’t want to see a loaded World Series contender come undone because the bullpen ace isn’t ready. Valverde was awful last season, but Leyland has seen him get the big outs before and would trust him more than he’d trust Rondon at this point.

If Rondon is closing when the season starts, he has to convert the first few save opportunities to gain confidence in himself and from his manager. Leyland’s a good liar, but he’ll have a hard time making Rondon, the Tigers, the front office and everyone else believe that he’s confident in his rookie closer until he’s closed a few games.

Offensive Key: Miguel Cabrera

Yes, they have Prince Fielder. Yes, Victor Martinez is coming back. Yes, there’s Torii Hunter, Alex Avila, Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and other guys who can hit. But it begins and ends with the 2012 Triple Crown winner, Cabrera.

Defensive Key: Jhonny Peralta

Peralta’s not as bad at shortstop as he’s portrayed and it was his adequate play on the left side of the infield that mitigated Cabrera’s lack of range at third. Apart from Cabrera, the Tigers’ defense is quite good. If they had a shortstop that covered a lot of ground, Cabrera wouldn’t be a concern at all—he catches the balls hit close enough to him to reach—but with Peralta’s up-and-down defense, it’s something to watch.

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Expressing Anger at Torii Hunter Solves Nothing

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It’s fine to expect all professional athletes to be as accepting and understanding of others as Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is in regards to the sexual orientation of others. Kluwe has expressed as such publicly, multiple times and as a result people who ordinarily haven’t the faintest clue who the punter for the Vikings is, now know due to his outspokenness on a controversial subject. But expecting every athlete to be so open is not reality. There’s still a wall between certain players and the possibility that in the future there will be an openly gay teammate in their clubhouse.

There are ways to deal with any reluctance on the part of players who are open about their feelings regarding this issue as Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter was when in this LA Times article on the subject he said he’d be “uncomfortable.” Savaging them in the media, getting them to backtrack and/or apologize when they don’t mean it isn’t an effective method to solve the underlying beliefs that led to his statement in the first place.

There are methods though. One is through management of the club saying that if you have a problem with it, we’ll accommodate you…by getting rid of you.

Vince Lombardi’s brother Harold was gay and in his time as a coach, Lombardi had gay players. He also made it a point to tell the other players that if they ever questioned said players’ manhood, they’d be gone. Presumably, he would also have used his power to blackball that particular player from other NFL teams. Nothing stops the side effects of prejudice like fearing for one’s livelihood that if you can’t deal with working X person, then you won’t have a job. It won’t eliminate the core beliefs that led to the prejudice, but it will prevent it from festering and infecting the club.

Interestingly, while Vince Lombardi is often held up as a paragon of conservative values, he was an ardent Democrat. It was Harold Lombardi who happened to be a staunch conservative when the Republican party was about business interests and not about telling people how to live their lives; he was a Republican before the Republican party was overrun by religious fundamentalists who excluded rather than included. That hardline attitude is shaking the ground beneath the feet of the ultra right wingers and religious right with the prospect of party marginalization that accompanies continuously losing elections with the untenable candidates they’re presenting such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. This is serving to “educate” them far better than an enlightening discussion that’s not going to enlighten anyone.

The bottom line tells all. Losing jobs, losing elections, losing money—it all results in the sudden epiphany of, “Hey, okay. I can work with others! I can be flexible.”

Hunter’s comments have been the catalyst for indignant blog postings and Tweets expressing shock that someone would dare say such a thing on the eve of 2013 when we, as a society, are supposed to be beyond all that, but maybe a little understanding of where Hunter is coming from would be beneficial. When a person is told from the beginning of his or her life that homosexuality is a sin; when the “proof” of this is presented in biblical texts and hammered into their brains at home from their parents; when they hear from respected members of the community such as pastors, priests, and rabbis, and, in conjunction, they’re functioning in the testosterone-fueled fishbowl of sports, do you think they’re going to express a liberalism when it comes to a person’s sexuality?

Because the public doesn’t want to hear what Hunter said, it’s not eliminated from existence.

These are facts and they’re not politically correct. The ever-present litany of clichés for athletes was created for public consumption and is designed to shun controversy. With that, you have athletes saying flavorless sound bytes of vanilla nothingness. Hunter spoke honestly of his beliefs on the matter. It’s opened the door to talk about it and perhaps convince those who think like Hunter that they need to be a little more accepting of an issue that they can’t control and that their resistance in doing so might eventually cast them out if they’re unwilling or unable to adapt to the prospect of having a gay teammate.

The only way to end that type of ingrained feeling of discomfort is to confront it, not by providing standard, pat responses out of fear of public reprisal, but with actual, honest answers so Hunter can be convinced that not every gay person is going to be staring at him in the shower as if he’s their next date; that the person is not committing a mortal sin and sentencing themselves to an eternity of damnation from a behavior Hunter views as against God’s laws; that it isn’t a choice. If Hunter says, “I’d be fine with it,” when he wouldn’t be fine with it, it does more harm than good. Lying can’t make a player who’s gay feel comfortable living his life publicly with the unsaid knowledge that there are players who are steering clear of him intentionally because of it. Only true education, discussion, or at least agreeing to disagree and working together in spite of it can do that.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part III—Sidelights

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Let’s look at the the Marlins-Blue Jays trade from the perspective of those affected by it, positively or negatively, and those who insert themselves into it.

Social media experts and critics

The self-proclaimed experts on social media reacted with shock and disdain not only that the Marlins did this, but that they didn’t get Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the deal as if they knew who he was. He’s a recognizable name to them and nothing more; if they did see him, the vast majority of them wouldn’t know what they were looking at, nor would they be able to interpret his statistics to determine how truly viable a prospect he is. Perhaps the Marlins asked for him and the Blue Jays said no; perhaps the Blue Jays preferred the lower level players they got in the deal; or maybe the Marlins are happy with the young catcher Rob Brantly whom they acquired from the Tigers in the trade that also netted them Jacob Turner in exchange for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

To a lesser degree, it falls in line with fans watching games and reacting to strategies with descriptive histrionics like, “*FACEPALM*” when Jim Leyland plays Delmon Young regularly; or Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild choose leave Boone Logan in to pitch to a righty; or during the NFL draft when a guy sitting on his couch wearing his team’s jersey declares that he’d take Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck and throws a fit when the opposite happens—the people actually doing the jobs know more than you do. For the guy on his couch, it’s a diversion; for the ones running the clubs, if they don’t make the correct (or at least explainable) decision, they’re going to get fired.

The media and the Marlins

The glaring response amid the outcry came from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Unlike the Red Sox-Dodgers trade when Sherman made a fool of himself by turning that blockbuster salary dump by the Red Sox into another indictment of the Mets, he actually made some legitimate points with the following:

Yet this was a deconstruction the Marlins needed to enact. Their roster, as constructed, was a science project gone wrong. Now they have created a layer of young talent with all of these trades — in this latest deal, executives particularly like center fielder Jake Marisnick (some Jayson Werth comps) and lefty Justin Nicolino, and anyone who saw Henderson Alvarez pitch against the Yankees knows he has a big arm.

How much of this is based on deeply held beliefs and how much is another, more subtle shot at the Mets to be true to his narrative is known only to Sherman, but given his history it’s a contrarian viewpoint with a winking dig at the Mets more than a true belief that the Marlins did the right thing. But the fact remains that, overall, he’s right. They did do the right thing.

No one with a brain is shocked by this Marlins housecleaning

Ignoring the litany of lies and managers hired and fired by Jeffrey Loria, that the Marlins gave heavily backloaded contracts to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle made them mid-season trade candidates in 2013 since their escalators kicked in by 2014. They chose to trade them now rather than wait and see. John Buck and Josh Johnson are both free agents after the 2013 season. Buck isn’t very good and Johnson was going to cost a fortune to re-sign. The charade of being built for the long haul was obvious with the Marlins from the start. The players knew what they were walking into when they didn’t get the valuable no-trade clauses and received guaranteed money they probably wouldn’t get elsewhere in exchange for the likelihood of being sent to a locale they would not have selected if they’d had a choice. Buehrle and Reyes are going to get paid; Johnson, if healthy, will receive a massive contract for his services.

The perception of chicanery and Loria’s blatant disregard for anyone other than Loria is what’s grating the masses. It would’ve been more palatable for observers—chief among them the politicians in Miami who pushed through the stadium deal and baseball itself—had the Marlins tried to win in 2013, but rather than further the sham, they pulled the trigger now. That it’s going to make/save more money for Loria is part of the equation.

The Marlins baseball people have always gotten the right names in their housecleanings. In some cases, it succeeded when they received Hanley Ramirez and Sanchez for Josh Beckett; in others, it didn’t as they received Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as the centerpieces for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is the risk when trading for prospects. Getting talent is controllable; developing that talent is the variable. The Marlins foundation is young, cheap and quite good once we get past the messy way in which it was laid.

The rest of baseball

The balance of power has shifted drastically. The NL East was a monster before the 2012 season started, but the Phillies age caught up to them; the Mets weren’t as bad as expected; the Nationals took their leap faster than most anticipated; and the Marlins were a disaster. Now that they’ve gutted the place, the Marlins are widely expected to be a punching bag in 2013, but truth be told with a group of young players fighting for playing time and jobs, they’ll be at least as competitive as the 69-93 apathy-tinged monstrosity that played out the string for most of the summer.

The American League saw the balance of power shift East to West. While it was supposed to be a two-team race for supremacy between the Angels and Rangers, the Athletics stunned both by winning the division. The Mariners young pitching and money to spend will make them a darkhorse in 2013. The Tigers just signed Torii Hunter for their star-studded lineup. There’s no longer a waltz into the playoffs for 2-3 teams from the AL East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in moderate to severe disarray with the Yankees having limited money to spend and now three teams in their division that have a rightful claim to being better than they are. The Red Sox purge excised the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. At the time it was an acknowledgement that the construction of the team wasn’t going to work and they intended to start over. It’s eerily similar to the situation the Marlins found themselves in, but the Marlins didn’t give it another try as the Red Sox did following their winter of 2010 spending spree and subsequent 2011 failure, and the Red Sox are going to take the money they saved and put it back into the team while the Marlins aren’t.

The Yankees have done nothing thus far in the winter and are trapped with contracts like that of Alex Rodriguez clogging up their arteries. Brian Cashman is getting what he wanted and learning that being the would-be genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He chafed at the notion that the Yankees teams he helped build were creatures of financial might and longed to be seen in the industry in the category of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as architects of winning franchises under a budget and with intelligent acquisitions rather than raiders of resources for those that could no longer afford them. Well, he’s getting what he wanted and the results are not good. Under the mandate of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014, he can’t take on the contracts that the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos just did. The pitchers he’d hoped to develop to provide low-cost production have either been mediocre or busts entirely. They’re waiting and hoping that Andy Pettitte returns and has another year in him; that Derek Jeter can recover from his ankle injury; that they get something from A-Rod; that Mariano Rivera can rebound from knee surgery at age 43; that Hiroki Kuroda will take a one-year deal to come back (he won’t); that they get something from Michael Pineda.

Do you really expect all of this to happen in a division made even tougher by the Blue Jays’ trades; the Orioles’ improvement; the Rays’ talent; and the Red Sox money to spend and determination to get back to their basics? The Yankees are in a worse position than the Marlins and even the Phillies were because if the season is spiraling in July of 2013, they’ll be trapped by those contracts and the fan anger that they won’t be able to make those conceding trades for the future. This is the team they have and the division they’re in and neither bode well.

Cashman wanted it and he got it. He’s so arrogant that it’s doubtful that he regrets it, but he should. And he will.

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The Angels’ Toxic Stew

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The Angels are in flux and trying to change on the fly with remnants of the old and facets of the new creating a strange brew that didn’t work in 2012 and is unlikely to work in 2013 and beyond. They have decided to move forward with manager Mike Scioscia after a disappointing and expensive season, but he has still been marginalized in influence. Hiring the best qualified and most impressive people isn’t always the best policy when maintaining what was already in place. GM Jerry Dipoto thinks differently from the manager, field staff and minor league personnel he inherited, but is stuck with them due to contractual obligations and apparent attachments.

On and off field changes are taking place in the aftermath of the $151 million club missing the playoffs while the Athletics—built similarly to the way Dipoto would build his clubs—made the playoffs with a $53 million payroll. Ervin Santana was traded to the Royals; Dan Haren will learn his fate—trade, contract option rejected or exercised—today; Zack Greinke and Torii Hunter are free agents; and in an under-the-radar, behind the scenes decision that might have consequences, longtime minor league manager and scout Tom Kotchman left the organization.

They’re walking the line between the past and the future, but that future is saddled with players like Albert Pujols who will turn 33 in January and is under contract until 2021; there’s a lack of definition in what they are and what their strategy will be.

Scioscia preferred his teams to be old-school and resistant to slumps with deep starting pitching that gobbled innings; a versatile bullpen with a hard-throwing closer; a lineup that hits home runs, but also speed to play small ball; and a very good defense. How much of that is present now with the departure of Santana and possibly Haren and Greinke? The lineup is not adhering to the same template Scioscia wanted. They’re not the same team, but have the same man running it on the field. The remaining bitterness between the manager, the GM and an irritated owner creates an antagonistic atmosphere. This type of dysfunction can work, but it certainly makes life easier for everyone if there isn’t such an obvious split in how things are run.

It extends to everyone. Arte Moreno is a well-liked and committed owner who tries to do the right thing. He encouraged stability with his manager, gave his baseball people free rein, and spent money. But when hiring someone with the mindset of Dipoto, inserting massive stars the level of Pujols into the mix, and essentially castrating Scioscia, the situation spiraled quickly when they didn’t win. They righted the ship to a degree and got back into playoff contention, but it was too late. For a club that was widely expected to win a championship, an 89-73 season doesn’t warrant excuses especially when a team like the Athletics blew past them like they were standing still and infighting, hoping no one would notice and sheer star power would carry them through. They made the mistake that other teams have made thinking that having good people means they’ll be able to work together and ride talent to waltz into the post-season. They didn’t. Now they’re moving forward with the same people that couldn’t get on the same page last season.

If Moreno wanted to go with a different GM, then he would be better served to let that GM hire a manager he wants. That is clearly not Scioscia. This is not an indictment of Scioscia, nor is it a defense of the longtime manager. It’s fact. His overmanaging and strange strategic maneuverings have hindered the club in the past, but at least everyone was in agreement as to the Angels’ way of doing things and they succeeded or failed as one. Now that’s not the case. Now there’s known fracture that’s not being repaired. With the structure in disarray and an ongoing struggle; a very rough AL West; and aging stars, it’s a hard formula to make work.

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American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, College Football, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

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Attendance Figures, Part II—Some Teams Just Don’t Try

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It’s not a remote experience for clubs to be content with losing 90 games, occasionally getting lucky and hovering around .500 and collect revenue sharing, put forth the pretense of spending money on players and pocketing profits while formulating a new plan every few years to return their teams to prominence while not caring whether their teams win or not.

The Twins and Pirates were rotten for years and refused to spend money. The Cubs have loyal fans and have had ownerships that have tried to win, but there’s a masochistic enjoyment of being known as the “lovable losers” to the point where it doesn’t matter if they win or not because they’re going to be in the top 5 in attendance no matter what. That attitude of, “oh, whatever” is one major thing that Theo Epstein has to combat. The Red Sox had a similar attitude of liking the pain of The Curse and constantly being abused by the Yankees and the Baseball Gods. Epstein ended that attitude in Boston; it might be harder to do with the Cubs.

For teams like the Twins and Pirates, it just so happened that the continuous presence at the ocean floor in the standings led to high draft picks and eventually those draft picks begat circumstantial improvement to the big league product. The Pirates are still 15th in the National League in attendance despite being in playoff contention and having a one of the few players in baseball that it’s worth the price of admission to see, Andrew McCutchen. Even the last Pirates teams that were legitimately good and had star power from Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla didn’t draw better than middle of the pack in the NL. It’s a football town and the ballpark has had little to do with anything in terms of fans coming out.

The Twins are an example of the simplest of cause and effects when it comes to a sports franchise. It’s been evident with the Mets of recent years and now the Phillies and Orioles in different directions. If the teams are good, the fans will pay to go and see it; if the teams are bad, they won’t. This is a different circumstance than what confronts the Pirates, the Florida franchises and the Athletics. The Twins were bad for years and played in an unfriendly atmosphere in the Metrodome. They built from within and became the dominant team in the AL Central for almost a decade, then moved into a brand new park, Target Field and spent money to try and win once they were on the verge to do so. They never made it to the finish line with the Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter core and now the team is facing a long rebuilding process. The fans are still coming to the park in reasonable numbers, but if the rebuild takes a long time that won’t last, new park or not.

The Mets attendance has plummeted from 3-5 years ago with the club a title contender and the opening of Citi Field and it’s happened because the team has been unlikable, rudderless and just plain bad. Aggravation with the franchise has caused apathy within the fanbase. The prices of the tickets aren’t helping matters either. What family can go to a game in this economy when paying $30 (at the minimum) each for a ticket and having to pay $20 to park, plus food and souvenirs? If you’re talking about a family of four paying in excess of $200 to sit in the upper deck and watch a team that’s floundering after a surprisingly good first half, what’s the point? These fans are not casual and they are loyal, but they don’t want to hear about the bright future (and the Mets do have a bright future) when the now is so mediocre and pricey.

The Orioles regularly led the American League in attendance in the 1990s when they had just built Camden Yards—the first of the new age/old school parks that are now the norm—and maintained that trend until the fans could no longer take the perennial losing and stopped going. Now they’re coming back because there’s been a significant improvement in the team. But Baltimore is a baseball town with a long history of success and were waiting for the team to be good again. The Marlins and Rays have no chance of success in Florida because the Florida population in general doesn’t care about baseball one way or the other.

Read Part I here.

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The Carlos Lee Trade—Full Analysis

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Marlins acquire 1B/OF Carlos Lee from the Astros for minor league 3B Matt Dominguez and LHP Rob Rasmussen.

For Carlos Lee.

For those wondering why Lee agreed to go to the Marlins and not the Dodgers, the Marlins weren’t on Lee’s no-trade list. He had no choice.

Even if the Marlins were on his no-trade list, he probably would’ve okayed the deal. If it’s true that Lee was concerned about the change in state income tax from Texas to Los Angeles, the state laws are the same in Florida as in Texas so he won’t be losing any money.

Lee has been too accommodating and nice during this whole process. He had every right to reject the deal to the Dodgers and didn’t have to give a reason. Sometimes players should channel their inner Barry Bonds and, rather than being politically correct, say what they’re really feeling to the tune of, “Screw off. It’s a clause in my contract and I exercised it. I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

The change to a better situation (at least in the standings) with the Marlins will benefit him. Lee and Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen had problems in the past from the one season Guillen managed him with the White Sox. White Sox catcher Jamie Burke had been bowled over in a home plate collision with Twins’ outfielder Torii Hunter; when Lee had the chance to retaliate with a takeout slide on an attempted double play, he didn’t do it.

As evidenced by that incident and his reluctance to respond forcefully when his desire to win was questioned as he vetoed the trade to the Dodgers, he can be laid back and passive.

I doubt it should be an issue between Lee and Guillen. It was 8 years ago; Guillen needs Lee to perform well for his team to win and get his club back into contention; Lee wants to do well to get another contract from someone after the season. I’m sure they’ve run into one another from time-to-time in the intervening years; there’s no need to harbor a grudge over it especially when they have mutual interests in putting it behind them.

For the Marlins.

They’re reportedly not paying Lee—the Astros are; first base has been a wasteland (Gaby Sanchez—.202/.250/.306 with 3 homers—was demoted to Triple A after the game); they’re near the bottom of the National League in runs scored; and they gave up two minor leaguers who weren’t in their long-term plans.

Lee’s a professional hitter, doesn’t strike out and the change could wake up his bat. He’s also an underrated defender at first base and a good baserunner despite his somewhat ample proportions.

For the Astros.

The Astros and Jeff Luhnow did a good job getting something for Lee. Dominguez was a 1st round draft pick for the Marlins in 2007, won’t be 23 until next month and has stalled at Triple A. He has 15 homer pop and as recently as two years ago had 31 extra base hits in 95 minor league games. Defense is his forte. Like the Astros’ decision to claim an even larger bust, Fernando Martinez of the Mets, there’s nothing to lose with Dominguez. The Astros minor league system is mostly barren and Luhnow is bringing in pieces to stock the organization; in this case it was for Lee whom they were desperate to get rid of. The talk that Dominguez is a defensive replacement is premature. If he can save 10 or so runs a year and hits 12 homers and drives in 75 runs, is that not productive?

Players like Dominguez have use. If he is a defensive replacement, so what? That’s a function.

Below is college video of Rasmussen, the minor league lefty the Astros received.

He’s listed at 5’9”; his size and motion are reminiscent of John Franco. Worst case scenario, he’s a lefty and lefties with a pulse are in demand.

This is a good deal for everyone.

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