Your 2012 Trade Deadline Reality Check for a 2011 “Guaranteed” World Series Participant—Part I

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It’s not all that long ago that the Red Sox were being compared the 1927 Yankees.

Of course that was the 2011 version of the Red Sox that tossed money at all their problems and were a World Series guarantee. It was as if they didn’t have to play the season at all. The expectations went unfulfilled as the team collapsed in September. That collapse and perceived lack of discipline and continuity spurred an exodus that led to the departures of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein, followed by the hiring of Bobby Valentine as the new manager and departure of a stalwart star of the past 9 years, Kevin Youkilis. Now, there are poorly hidden fissures in the front office as to the direction of the franchise and they still harbor thoughts of saving this season.

They’re 50-51, 10 ½ games out of first place in the AL East and 5 games behind in the Wild Card race. It might as well be 15 games. All outward signs point to them trying to hang around the playoff race—a race they’re not really a part of—and making a few moves to bolster the roster. Larry Lucchino’s letter to fans and the idea that they’re still hovering around veteran arms like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jason Vargas and anyone else is postponing the inevitable. If they’re doing it to placate the fans and keep the media quiet, it’s bad but not as bad as them thinking they’re still contenders. They’ve played this way for four months and aren’t going to suddenly galvanize and make a historic run to the post-season.

Forget it.

If you read today’s NY Times piece on Valentine and what he’s dealing with, you see that hiring him was a mistake and clearly wasn’t the brainchild of GM Ben Cherington or the new era baseball people. Lucchino wanted a name, and he got it. Valentine is at fault for some of what’s gone wrong with the Red Sox, but he’s had one hand tied behind his back from the beginning of the season. The Carl Crawford situation is a prime example of that. Resting him every fourth-fifth day and hoping he makes it to the end of the season is a half-measure doomed to fail. If he needs reconstructive surgery, he should simply get the reconstructive surgery and be done with it. No one’s taking his contract and the team’s going nowhere.

If Lucchino and John Henry nudge (AKA force) Cherington to make a “bold” maneuver they’ll be speeding their freefall to 65-97 in the coming years and repeating the mistakes that other clubs have made in chasing “it”. If Cherington hasn’t yet called Epstein and said, “Thanks for nothing,” in handing him that job, he’d like to. Cherington can put up the front that he’s onboard with everything the organization is doing, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about hiring Valentine and he’s smart enough to know where this season is heading. The Red Sox would’ve been better off if they were hammered this weekend at Yankee Stadium to eliminate all ambiguity and feed the public poor-tasting medicine that they need to take to get better.

As for the fans refusing to “accept” the team bagging the season with 38 home games left, those fans need a reality check of their own. This organization has done nothing but cater to their whims on and off the field for the past decade. They won them two championships and put them in a position where anything short of a World Series win was considered a disappointment. If those greedy fans can’t accept two months of one bad year in the interests of not ruining their chances for 2013 and beyond, then they’re not real fans to begin with.

Here’s the bitter pill for the Red Sox: Don’t do anything stupid or desperate. Accept the truth. It’s not happening this season and no blockbuster trade is going to fix their current issues. This team, plainly and simply, isn’t very good.

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Who Won’t Be Traded At The Deadline?

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Everyone’s coming up with their lists of players who are going to be available or traded at the upcoming MLB trading deadline. I’ve been doing it too and will continue up to the big day, but there are also names floating around that come from anonymous (possibly nonexistent) sources; have reasons to possibly be on the block but actually aren’t; or are pulled out of the air by rumormongers because they can’t think of anything else to write or talk about.

Here are some of the players that are implied to be available, but aren’t and won’t be traded.

Josh Willingham, Twins

The Twins are ready to deal but they’re not going to get rid of every big league player on the roster. They just signed Willingham this past winter, he’s paid reasonably and they wouldn’t get much for him if they did decide to trade him. The days of teams taking on big contracts and giving up significant prospects are over and the Twins aren’t going to pay any of Willingham’s salary.

He’s 33 and is signed through 2014 at $7 million per year. He’s either more valuable for the Twins to keep or to look to trade as the contract winds down.

The Twins aren’t going to have the stomach to rebuild the team completely in an expansion-franchise sense. Willingham can help them in the next two seasons and he’s a good influence on the younger players.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

I understand the thinking that the Diamondbacks might listen. Managing general partner Ken Kendrick called Upton out for his mediocre play and GM Kevin Towers listened to offers on Upton shortly after taking over. There’s a logic to doing something drastic when a team with high expectations is struggling, but Upton is only 24 (25 in August); is signed at a reasonable rate ($38.5 million from 2013-2015); and the Diamondbacks still have a good shot at the playoffs despite their poor start.

Upton has a no-trade clause to four teams: the Tigers, A’s, Indians and Royals.

Other teams will call and ask; as he should, Towers might listen to what the offers are; but Upton’s not getting moved.

Alex Gordon, Royals

He’s finally found a defensive home in left field; he’s signed through 2015; is hitting better after a bad luck-infused start; and the Royals aren’t doing the “we’re rebuilding” thing and dumping any and all veterans.

The Royals have something positive building in spite of their stimulus response critics. Gordon is a part of that.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners

They’re not trading him. Forget it.

It’s partially because the Mariners have a load of pitching on the roster and on the way up and need a veteran leader to front the rotation when they’re ready to move from terrible to mediocre to (someday) pretty good, but if they’re letting Ichiro Suzuki go after this season, they don’t want to alienate the fanbase entirely by dumping two fan favorites within months of one another.

Tim Lincecum, Giants

There’s a logic to the idea. He’s been bad this season, somewhat unlucky and his velocity is down. Lincecum is a free agent after the 2013 season and has shown no inclination to sign a long-term deal for one penny less than market value.

One thing that flashed through my head was Cole Hamels and one of the Phillies’ minor league arms (Phillippe Aumont, Trevor May) for Lincecum. The Giants would get an ace (pitching like an ace) for the rest of the season and a young pitcher; the Phillies would have Lincecum for this year and next.

But the Giants aren’t going to trade their most popular and marketable player regardless of how poor he’s going.

David Wright, Mets

Wright is having an MVP-quality season and is back to the player he was until the Mets moved into Citi Field and turned Wright into a nervous wreck who altered his swing and approach to account for the stadium’s dimensions. The Mets are hovering around contention and aren’t drawing well. Trading Wright would throw the white flag up on the season. That’s not going to happen.

He’s signed for 2013 at $16 million and the Mets are going to give him an extension comparable to Ryan Zimmerman’s with the Nationals. He’s going nowhere.

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Mets Have To Check In On Colby Rasmus

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So deep into Tony LaRussa‘s spacious, entrance only doghouse; so far out of favor with the Cardinals has fallen Colby Rasmus that it’s being said that they’re shopping him.

There are different levels to “shopping him”. In extreme cases, the phrase means “we gotta get this guy outta here”; in some, it’s “let’s move him now before he declines any further; in others, it’s “we need ‘X’ to compete for a championship now and the easiest way to get that is by dealing ‘Y’ and worrying about the consequences later”.

Whatever the reason, Rasmus is available and the Mets have to check in on him.

What would it take? With the statement from none other than Joel Sherman in the above-linked piece (grains of salt at the ready) that the Cardinals are asking for a “ton”, Rasmus won’t be easily attainable; but what are the Cardinals asking for?

Could the Mets convince the Cardinals that Carlos Beltran, Bobby Parnell and Fernando Martinez for say Rasmus, Bryan Anderson and Maikel Cleto would be a sufficient return?

Beltran could mean the difference between a playoff spot in 2011 or 4th place for the Cardinals.

It’s no guarantee that Beltran would want to leave St. Louis once he’s there nor ask for an absurd contract to stay—many players have been traded to the Cardinals and taken short money to preclude free agency because they enjoyed it so much; plus he’s a LaRussa-type of player. Beltran would also be a viable fallback/threat to Albert Pujols‘s prospective free agency. They could keep Lance Berkman and shift him to first base and install Beltran in right field with Jon Jay in center in the unlikely event of Pujols leaving.

After his breakout season in 2010, Angel Pagan has reverted into being, well, Angel Pagan. A flash of brilliance here; an injury to keep him out for weeks there; and a rockhead play like the one he pulled against the same Cardinals in which he tried to double a runner off first….by throwing the ball to Cardinals first base coach Dave McKay.

He’s not the long-term solution in center for the Mets.

Maybe Rasmus is.

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MLB’s James Bond Villain Issues A Threat And Other Deadline Stories

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“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!!”

With Kenny Williams as Soxfinger; Jack Zduriencik as Dr. Evil; Joel Sherman as Mini-Me; and Billy Beane as Brad Pitt as Billy Beane.

An empty threat?

I put nothing past White Sox GM Ken Williams, so despite the fact that his statement of possibly “turning over the entire roster” seems crazy, it’s possible that he’s going to do something drastic.

The White Sox are currently 50-51 and 3 1/2 games out of first place in a bad division. I can’t see him cleaning house with them that close to first place even if they do play poor-to-mediocre baseball over the next week.

As the linked MLBTradeRumors piece says, he could trade Edwin Jackson, Matt Thornton, Carlos Quentin and other pieces; but he’s not going to be able to move Adam Dunn or Alex Rios.

In other words, what’s the point?

The one thing about Williams that can be seen as simultaneously good and bad (or evil) is his single-mindedness. He had his sights set on Jake Peavy two years ago, Peavy rejected a trade to the White Sox, Williams tried again and got Peavy. They’d have been better off taking Peavy’s no for an answer.

He was also enamored with Ken Griffey Jr., traded for him and Junior was winding down by the time he got to the White Sox.

In other circumstances, he loved Gavin Floyd when there was no reason to love Gavin Floyd and Floyd’s become a solid and sometimes spectacular starter.

Warnings aside, I can’t see the White Sox blowing it up unless they lose all their games this week. Then everyone should duck.

A cheaper patch-job.

Varying reports have the Giants still after an outfield bat—B.J. Upton (WHY?!?); or Carlos Beltran—but they’d be better-served in filling their current hole in the lineup and behind the plate by going after the Mariners’ Miguel Olivo.

Olivo has power (14 homers); handles the pitchers well and can throw.

Yes, he’s signed through next year at $3.5 million with a club option for 2013, but so what? The Giants don’t know when Buster Posey‘s going to be ready to return and Olivo is a good replacement considering the weak market for catchers.

One would assume the Mariners will be very willing to move Olivo.

Then again, the Mariners wanted an “impact bat” for journeyman reliever David Aardsma before he got hurt, so reality might not be part of the plot in Seattle.

After 16 straight losses, it’s just as well.

Tra-la-la-la-la!!!!

Wag the dog.

If you check out the clearinghouse websites with writers attributing their “rumors” to various sources—and are truly reading what they’re writing rather than indulging in fast food for the mind while you’re sitting at your desk at work or staring at your smartphone—you’ll notice something interesting: within one piece, you’ll see 7-10 different reporters quoting 7-10 different “insider” sources saying 7-10 radically different things. Many times, they’re diametrically opposed to what the other “experts” and “insiders” have said.

Are you getting my point?

It’s circular self-indulgence and is likely to be completely inaccurate but justified as a “fluid situation”.

What that means is the stories are planted to maintain attention, keep the readers coming back to see what happens next (which won’t, in most cases, actually happen in reality), or gauge the reaction of the public-at-large.

But you keep on eating your Big Macs; go to Subway because it’s where “winners eat”; drink your Big Gulp.

You’ll be fine.

(No you won’t.)

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MLB Trade Deadline Rules To Live By

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And/or die by.

Here’s a logical and well-reasoned list of rules that teams should adhere to when assessing whether or not to buy, sell or stand pat at the trading deadline.

Don’t do something stupid.

It sounds easy enough, but there are always teams and GMs that let ancillary issues like job security of the participants influence what they’ll do. If a GM or manager is on shaky ground and concerned about his own status, of course he’s going to do something to try and make his own situation better whether that hamstrings the team for the future or not.

If he knows his job hinges on 2011 results, what difference does it make to Dave Dombrowski if Al Avila has a solid foundation to rebuild the aging Tigers?

Regardless of what you think of their various strategies, at least you can trust that Billy Beane, Brian Sabean and Larry Beinfest are doing what they think is right for their clubs based on current and future needs rather than what’s going to be perceived as “correct” or “incorrect” by would-be experts in the media and fan bases.

In other circumstances, you can’t say that. Will Dombrowski do something crazy to try and placate his impatient manager Jim Leyland and keep their jobs? Apart from legacy, what stake does Orioles GM Andy MacPhail have with the Orioles as he’s been marginalized by the hiring of Buck Showalter and is likely out the door after the season?

If you see a top prospect traded for a negligible talent like Ryan Dempster or a pending free agent like Carlos Beltran, you’ll get a pretty good idea of the intent and underlying reasons.

Any team that acquiesces to the Padres apparent demands of a top prospect for Mike Adams—a journeyman set-up man with atrocious mechanics and a history of arm problems whose success has been late-coming; is arbitration-eligible and a free agent after 2013 and is 33-years-old—is foolish. Plain and simple.

Don’t say something stupid.

Theo Esptein sounded like a total moron and he was in full self-defensive spin mode after the Yankees had addressed every single one of their needs in 2006 by acquiring Bobby Abreu (whom the Red Sox were after), and Cory Lidle.

Epstein’s quote was something to the tune of “we can’t afford to do certain things; we have to build now and for the future” to explain away their inaction as the season came apart…then after the season, they turned around and spent a load of money on Julio Lugo.

Or Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik explaining his re-acquisition of Russell Branyan with the silly statement that “part of development is winning games” as if Branyan was going to be a key piece to that end.

It didn’t work in any context.

Either speaking in indistinct circles or telling the truth are better than saying something that people are going to remember and toss in your face years later.

Like I just did.

Read every word written by Joel Sherman and think the exact opposite (except when he’s plagiarizing me—click this link and scroll to the section beginning with “Hmmm”).

I don’t care much for unnamed “sources”.

Everyone likes to portray themselves as an “insider” and get credit after the fact for being “right”, but much of the time these rumors are utter nonsense that emanated from some reporter/talk show host’s ass.

A year ago, Sherman had Cliff Lee traded to the Yankees for about 12 hours before—lo and behold—Lee was traded to the Rangers. He went into desperate backpedal in trying to explain the intricacies of when a trade is truly completed and flung his favored “Amazin’ Exec” Zduriencik off the roof of his skyscraper of fantasy consisting of unnamed executives and built on quicksand as he tried to maintain the role of someone who knows what’s going on before the fact when he’s dumber than even the most idiotic and reactionary fan.

You’ll hear the nonsense from Michael Kay, Buster Olney, Jon Heyman and even Peter Gammons.

Ignore it.

Know when to go for it; when to hold off; when to clear the house.

Mets fans have the audacity to take Sandy Alderson’s decisive act of brilliance in getting rid of Francisco Rodriguez and his onerous contract option and are interpreting it as the raising of the white flag.

White flag to what?

If the Mets were in the NL Central and in their exact same position, there’s an argument for holding off on making any trades of veterans.

But they’re not.

They’re in a division with the Braves and Phillies; have inexplicably played about 5 miles over their heads with limited talent and countless injuries; and are not contenders regardless of the propaganda designed to rip them for anything they do.

What do the fans/media geniuses want?

The Mets get aggressive when they’re not contenders and trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and get roasted. They hire Omar Minaya and he convinces the front office to eschew the lifetime severance employment for Al Leiter and John Franco and signs Pedro Martinez and Beltran and try to win immediately, he gets treated as an utter fool after the fact for spending money unwisely.

That Mets team was a Duaner Sanchez car accident and one hit away from a World Series they would’ve won in 2006.

How would Minaya look had things gone a bit differently?

They fire Minaya and hire the cold-blooded and stat savvy Sandy Alderson; he assesses the situation and does the right thing and what happens? The Mets get hammered by the same fans who aren’t even coming to the ballpark now.

Tell the fans to take a hike if they don’t like it.

A team like the Pirates needs to go the opposite direction.

As hard as it is to believe, they’re in the NL Central race. But if you examine how they’ve done it, it’s unsustainable over the long term. They’re winning because of superlative performances from mediocre veterans like Jeff Karstens and a patched together bullpen of journeyman from whom a continuation of this work is not going to happen.

The Pirates don’t have a group of young pitchers who are developing as the Giants had with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the years preceding their 2010 title.

Their defense has saved them and they can’t hit.

The Pirates must make a bold move now to try and win in 2011 because in 2012, it’s more likely that they’ll fall back to 90 losses than to continue the innocent climb.

Have a check on the baseball people.

In retrospect, it was a bad thing that Orioles owner Peter Angelos overruled Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson as they tried to trade Bobby Bonilla and other veterans at mid-season 1996 when they looked hopelessly out of playoff contention.

But back then, it worked as the Orioles got hot and made the playoffs.

In fact, the Orioles were Jeffrey Maier’s act of fan interference on Derek Jeter‘s homer away from beating the Yankees in that year’s ALCS and maybe winning the World Series.

They made the playoffs the next year too.

I’m not saying that the Mets college of cardinals approach in 2004 when they sat there and voted on the trade of Kazmir was the right way to go, but the owner has a right to nix a deal he doesn’t think is the right thing to do. It’s the height of arrogance for a baseball man to sit there and say, “I want to have final say” in the construction of the club. He doesn’t own it, he doesn’t get final say.

It’s not a bad thing to have dissent or questioning from the man signing the checks if he’s willing to listen and analyze rather than bloviate.

If top prospects are traded for veteran rentals, make sure you can sign them or are going to win with them before letting them leave.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was criticized for trading Carlos Santana to the Indians for Casey Blake in 2008.

Why?

The Dodgers had a 25-year-old catcher in Russell Martin who, at the time, was heading for superstardom; they were in a winnable and weak division and were built to win immediately. They needed a third baseman/outfielder and solid veteran, so they traded for Blake.

Looking back, you can say it was a mistake, but Blake helped them greatly in both 2008 and 2009 as the Dodgers were a couple of plays away from possibly winning one or two World Series.

Don’t mess with something that’s working just because you can.

The 2004 Dodgers were streaking, rolling and blasting towards the playoffs. They had a devastating bullpen and a team that had grown organically and been built by former GM Dan Evans and manager Jim Tracy; they trusted each other and have a cohesiveness that pure statistical analysis can’t account for.

That didn’t stop then-GM Paul DePodesta from dropping a bomb in the middle of the clubhouse and undermining everything that had been created simply because he could and it made some form of theoretical sense.

Theory and practice are two vastly different things.

Trading the leader of the team and the manager’s favorite player Paul Lo Duca, the best set-up man in baseball in Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Brad Penny and Hee-Seop Choi was a failure in every conceivable metric.

Penny got hurt immediately; a proposed trade of Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson came apart because Johnson refused to waive his no-trade clause; Mota’s designated replacement Darren Dreifort was atrocious before he predictably got hurt; and Choi was a disaster.

You don’t muck with something that’s good even if you don’t understand why it’s good.

If you follow these simple rules, you’ll have a good chance of doing what’s right rather than what’s popular.

Of course I expect the world at large to ignore me, but they’ll do so having been warned.

It’s in writing.

I’ll be on the Red State Blue State podcast tomorrow. Dig your trenches.

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