August Waivers Rodeo—American League

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Claiming any of the following players will be hazardous to one’s payroll.

Let’s have a look at American League players who’ll get through waivers for one reason or another.

Mark Teixeira, 1B—New York Yankees

If Teixeira’s contract were due to expire in the near future, someone would claim him and the Yankees wouldn’t let him go. If he was claimed now, they still wouldn’t let him go, but they’d at least briefly consider it. He’s owed $22.5 million annually through 2016 when he’ll be 36. He’s going nowhere.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B—New York Yankees

Yeah. You claim A-Rod. You’ll have A-Rod at 37 with $104 million coming to him from 2013 through 2017.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

His numbers are down, he’s owed $127 million through 2018 and he’s becoming the great player whose teams always miss the playoffs.

Carl Crawford, LF—Boston Red Sox

Yah. A-Rod has a better chance of being claimed.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

There would undoubtedly be factions in the Red Sox front office that would vote to let him go if he was claimed. Now he’s day-to-day with back spasms which, along with his poor pitching and not-so-charming personality, make him even more toxic with $31.5 million owed to him in 2013-2014. He also has 10 and 5 rights to block any deal but I think he’d love to get out of Boston by any means necessary.

Brandon Lyon, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He’s owed $5.5 million for 2012.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

No one claimed him in June when the Blue Jays had to get him through waivers to send him to the minors earlier in the season; he’s hit better since he was recalled, but with $7 million guaranteed next season, he won’t be claimed especially since he’s not on the disabled list with a back injury.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

Add the Blue Jays to the Braves as teams that the talented Escobar has aggravated to the point that they want to be rid of him. His contract pays him $10 million in 2013-2014 and he has an option for 2015. He’ll get through and might be traded.

Alexei Ramirez, SS—Chicago White Sox

His hitting numbers have taken a nosedive and he’s owed $27.5 million through 2015.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s got a limited no-trade clause and presumably the team that claims him will be responsible for his $2.75 million buyout, but someone might claim him and hope that he can stay healthy for the last two months of the season (he’s sidelined with a sore back now) and perhaps provide some DH pop.

Casey Kotchman, 1B—Cleveland Indians

As a defensive replacement, there’d be a team to take him.

Joe Mauer, C—Minnesota Twins

He’s getting $23 million annually through 2018. If anyone claimed him, the Twins would pull him back; doubtful anyone will.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

With $14 million owed to him for 2013 and that he’s hit better recently, a team might claim him and the Twins would pull him back. If they trade him, it will be in the winter.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

No one’s claiming him, but if he proves himself healthy by the end of the month, he’ll be traded.

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s a free agent at the end of the year and a contender (or a team that thinks they’re a contender—see the Red Sox of Boston or Blue Jays of Toronto) could use him for the stretch.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

He’s owed $6.75 million for 2013. By the time his career is over, Frenchy might’ve played for 12-15 teams. That’s where his career is headed and it’s a major fall from being a Sports Illustrated coverboy and pegged a future megastar.

Bruce Chen, LHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s got a contract for $4.5 million for 2012, but eats innings and can be effective. He’ll get through and will be in decent demand via trade.

Roy Oswalt, RHP—Texas Rangers

Oswalt refused to pitch a third inning of relief on Sunday even though manager Ron Washington asked him to. He’s been mostly bad and is now causing a problem. For a small-town, “humble” guy, he’s doing a great impression of Terrell Owens. The Rangers will keep him around in case they need him, but no one will claim him.

Michael Young, INF/DH—Texas Rangers

As much as he’s respected, the final year of his contract on 2013 pays him $16 million and he’s been bad this season. If he’s claimed, the Rangers would be willing to let him go. He’s got 10 and 5 rights and won’t waive them.

Coco Crisp, OF—Oakland Athletics

The A’s have plenty of outfielders and Crisp is owed $8 million for 2013.

Vernon Wells, OF—Los Angeles Angels

His contract—$42 million for 2013-2014—is toxic.

Dan Haren, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Haren has a $15.5 million club option and a $3.5 million buyout; he’s having back problems and has been mediocre all season.

Ervin Santana, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s been bad, has a $13 million option that won’t be exercised and a $1 million buyout.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—Seattle Mariners

Figgins has $8 million guaranteed next season and has batted under .200 in each of the past two seasons. You claim it, you got it.

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MLB Reality Check: Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford

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Rumormongers are pushing the idea that either the Red Sox are trying to get rid of both Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford or that there are teams that have interest in acquiring either. Such talk has implied that the Braves and Rangers would have interest in Beckett; and that there was a discussion of Crawford going to the Marlins in a deal for the since-traded Hanley Ramirez.

Forget it. All of it.

Here’s your reality check and it has nothing to do with Beckett’s 10 and 5 status and the right to block any trade. Beckett has been mediocre at best and despite his post-season resume as a big game pitcher and that a divorce between the Red Sox and Beckett would benefit both sides immensely, no team is giving the Red Sox any prospects for Beckett unless the Red Sox provide some serious salary relief for the remaining $31.5 million on Beckett’s deal for 2013-2014 (along with whatever he’s owed for the last two months of this season). The combination of the way he’s pitched and his reputation as a bad clubhouse guy make it very possible that the Red Sox will just about give him away after the season.

He’s going nowhere right now.

Crawford and the Red Sox need to get away from each other as well, but Crawford’s contract pays him over $100 million from 2013-2017. On top of that, the Red Sox and Crawford are all but waiting for his elbow to blow out so he can get the reconstructive surgery he needs. Short of taking Vernon Wells for him and tossing in a chunk of money, where’s he going? Who’s taking him before he’s proven to be healthy?

No one.

Neither player is going anywhere.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—National League

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Yesterday I predicted where various available American League players would wind up (or if they won’t be traded at all). Now let’s have a look at the National League. Bear one thing in mind: the irony shouldn’t be lost on you that Brett Myers was traded from the Astros to the White Sox and the “insiders” and rumormongering schlock sites had no inkling that Myers was even on the White Sox’ radar. They don’t have any more viable information than you or I do and are either making things up or working hand-in-hand with organizations and one another to wag the dog and accumulate webhits, attention and increase advertising rates.

Know what you’re reading and determine credibility based on logic and intelligence, not a circular reputation based on a shoddy foundation.

New York Mets

Ike Davis, 1B—He hasn’t been rumored anywhere that I’ve seen, but if they can move Davis as part of a deal for Justin Upton, it has to be explored. Davis has power, is a good fielder and his teammates love him, but he strikes out way too much; is streaky; and has a growing negative reputation with the umpires as a whiner. If he thinks the whining is going to get him close calls, he’s sorely mistaken. He won’t be traded in-season; in the off-season, the Mets will listen.

Daniel Murphy, 2B/1B/3B—He can hit and does have the ability to hit the ball out of the park 10-15 times a year in spite of his low power numbers in 2012; his defense at second base has been serviceable and no one works harder, but is he going to be the Mets’ second baseman when they take the next step into contention? If not, they should explore dealing him for pitching help. He’ll go as part of a deal for Huston Street so the Mets can get Jordany Valdespin into the lineup.

Scott Hairston, OF—The talk of trading the likes of R.A. Dickey at his “high value” is ridiculous, but they could get bullpen help for Hairston. I doubt they trade him.

Jason Bay, OF—They could get a similarly bad contract like Chone Figgins and probably money to pay off a worse contract like Vernon Wells. It would be best for everyone, but Bay’s not going anywhere now. They’ll release him after the season.

Miami Marlins

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Nobody wants him and after yesterday’s display of 6 walks in 3.1 innings and his awful pitching of late, when the Marlins start making the inevitable changes, they’ll just release him and make a big show of it as evidence of them “doing something”.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS—They won’t trade Hanley in-season. If they make a move, it’ll be over the winter. Even then, I doubt they’ll pull the trigger. In fact, amid all the talk of a “Marlins sell-off”, they can’t clean out the house halfway into the first season in a new park just because the flawed team they put together hasn’t performed. Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Giancarlo Stanton aren’t going anywhere…for now.

Logan Morrison, LF/1B—LoMo is another matter. He’s too one-dimensional to be this much of an organizational pest. He irritated the club with his tweeting and subversive behaviors and if they’d like to set an example, this is the way to do it.

The Orioles need a bat who can hit the ball out of the park.

Ricky Nolasco, RHP—Nolasco needs a change of scenery and if teams realize the Marlins are moving some pieces after the names that are floating around now are off the board, Nolasco’s a pretty good consolation prize. The Cardinals could use him.

Anibal Sanchez, RHP—Another former Red Sox’ farmhand like Ramirez, he’s available and very good when he’s healthy. Back to the Red Sox he goes.

Heath Bell, RHP—Who wants the contract? Who wants him? Nobody and nobody.

Omar Infante, 2B—They won’t trade him.

John Buck, C—Who wants him?

Greg Dobbs, 3B/OF/PH—The Giants need a bat off the bench.

Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels, LHP—They’re going to sign him.

Cliff Lee, LHP—Here’s a flash for the Joel Shermans of the world of which there are far too many: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

Shane Victorino, OF—The Yankees are being pushed to acquire an outfielder they don’t need and are said to have asked about Victorino. He’ll be traded and I say to the Indians.

Ty Wigginton, INF—He’s a Kirk Gibson-type player who’d help the Diamondbacks as a corner infielder and bat off the bench.

Hunter Pence, OF—They’re not trading Pence.

Jimmy Rollins, SS—If they’d like to free up some money for Hamels, they could explore getting rid of Rollins. The Giants like veterans, but Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam yesterday; they demoted Brandon Belt; if the Giants look for a bat, it will be at first base. Nobody’s taking Rollins.

Juan Pierre, OF—The Cardinals could use bench help and speed.

Placido Polanco, INF—Back to the Tigers.

Joe Blanton, RHP—The Orioles need a starter to gobble innings.

Milwaukee Brewers

Zack Greinke, RHP—Greinke won’t sign long-term with the Brewers, but they’re close enough to contention to hang onto him and take the draft pick when he leaves.

Randy Wolf, LHP—Another pitcher who will be on the second tier after the names come off the board. He’ll go to the Dodgers.

Shaun Marcum, RHP—He won’t be traded.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B—Nobody’s taking that contract.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Back to the Angels.

Chicago Cubs

Matt Garza, RHP—The blogosphere went bonkers when Garza was yanked from last night’s game after 3 innings. “Was he traded?” “Where was he traded?”

He wasn’t traded. He had cramping in his triceps.

Unless the Cubs are knocked over, why trade him now? He’s under contract for 2013 and whatever they’d get now, they can get after the season. He’ll stay.

Ryan Dempster, RHP—Don’t buy into the teams that are supposedly “out” on Dempster. He’s a Jim Leyland-type of pitcher and the Tigers need starting pitching.

Starlin Castro, SS—They’ll listen but won’t move him in-season.

Geovany Soto, C—If he’s moved, it will be in the winter.

Bryan LaHair, 1B—With the Giants sending Belt to the minors, they need a bat at first base.

Carlos Marmol, RHP—I don’t know who’d want him. He strikes out a lot of hitters, but walks a lot as well.

Alfonso Soriano, LF/DH—The Cubs would have to pay off his remaining contract ($36 million for 2013-2014), but what’s the difference at this point? I doubt anyone’s taking him even for free.

Houston Astros

Wandy Rodriguez, LHP—He’s owed up to $26 million for next season with his 2014 option becoming guaranteed with a trade. The Blue Jays need pitching and have money and prospects to deal.

Wesley Wright, LHP—The Rangers need another lefty reliever for the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Justin Upton, RF—They’ve made such an overt display of putting him on the market, they pretty much have to trade him now. The Rays will jump in with a package and hope that the unification of the Justin with his brother B.J. Upton will inspire B.J. to play hard over the second half and perhaps steal another playoff spot.

Stephen Drew, SS—The Braves need a shortstop and Paul Janish ain’t it.

Ryan Roberts, INF/OF—Roberts is a utility player who had a career year in 2011 and the Diamondbacks began to think he’s an everyday player. They’ll keep him and put him back where he belongs as an extra bench man.

San Diego Padres

Chase Headley, 3B—Their demands are high for a controllable player and won’t trade him.

Carlos Quentin, LF—He and the Padres are supposedly nearing a contract extension.

Huston Street, RHP—He’ll go to the Mets.

Luke Gregerson, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Clayton Richard, LHP—They won’t trade him.

Joe Thatcher, LHP—The Indians need another lefty out of the bullpen.

Edinson Volquez, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF—They’d listen but won’t move him. If GM Dan O’Dowd goes to ownership with a deal that’s as big as it would be to trade Fowler and ownership says to hold off, O’Dowd should start getting boxes for his stuff and prepare to clean out his office.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Back to the Indians.

Ramon Hernandez, C—The Rays have interest and that’s where he’ll go.

Jason Giambi, 1B/PH—The Reds need a lefty bat off the bench who can play sparingly at first base until Joey Votto is 100%.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF—More nonsense from Joel Sherman who said recently that the Yankees (shocking coming from Sherman) should go after Gonzalez. He’s not available even to the Yankees who, supposedly, are preordained to be handed whatever they want whether it be Lee, Gonzalez or whoever.

Gonzalez’s not getting dealt.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—American League

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If you read the mainstream sites and clearing houses of “rumors”, you’ll see that at any given time approaching the July 31st deadline there are around 30 different trades with 50+ players that are supposedly being discussed. The problem is the majority of the purveyors of this sludge claim to have “inside information”. But it’s always the same players going to 10 different places, staying put, signing contracts or whatever other fiction they can come up with and it’s done to accumulate webhits and play you for a fool. Most of it is garbage. It’s probably wise to just ignore the “rumors” that pop up since most of them are formulated based on search engine analysis and have little-to-no basis in fact.

Let’s have a logical look at players that are or might be available along with predictions of where they’ll end up or if they won’t be traded at all. The teams listed are sellers, possible sellers or those who are willing or have the need to do something drastic. The National League will be posted at another time.

Tampa Bay Rays

James Shields, RHP—He won’t be traded mid-season unless a team gets desperate and offers 2-3 legit prospects to get him. He’s signed through 2014 and the Rays are still in contention. I do believe he’ll eventually be traded, but it won’t be until the winter.

Wade Davis, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Boston Red Sox

Kelly Shoppach, C—He’ll get traded in an “if this, then that” deal meaning if the Red Sox have to trade someone from the current roster to improve the starting rotation, they’ll trade Shoppach simultaneously to fill the created hole.

He’ll end up with the Mets.

Carl Crawford, LF—No one’s taking that contract now. They’ll try to deal him after the season to free money to sign Jacoby Ellsbury long-term and might find a taker if Crawford’s healthy and plays well over the final 2 months. Both Crawford and the Red Sox seem to realize that it would be best if the sides parted. The Red Sox signing him was a mistake; Crawford signing in Boston was a mistake.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Since the media created a ridiculous rumor out thin air that would’ve sent Crawford to the Marlins for Heath Bell and Hanley Ramirez, I’ve got one of my own (only not ridiculous). If they’re going to get rid of Beckett, they’ll have to take a similar contract in return. Beckett is owed $31.5 million through 2014. If the Marlins are desperate to get rid of Bell, how about Bell, Anibal Sanchez and Randy Choate for Beckett?

I’m sure Bell and Bobby Valentine would get along about as well as Valentine and Kevin Youkilis. Or Valentine and anyone else. Which is to say not well. At all.

Toronto Blue Jays

Yunel Escobar, SS—Escobar may have irritated his way out of another venue and the Dodgers need a shortstop. For some reason, the Blue Jays fancy themselves as contenders and need pitching.

Kansas City Royals

Jeff Francoeur, OF—He was with the Rangers when they went to the World Series in 2010 and if he was a defensive replacement for the Nelson Cruz in the 2011 series, they would’ve won. Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan won’t forget that.

Bruce Chen, LHP—They’re not going to trade him.

Jonathan Broxton, RHP—His strikeout numbers are down, but he’s had a solid comeback season as a closer. The cross-state Cardinals need bullpen help.

Jose Mijares, LHP—Everyone needs an extra lefty. The Dodgers are ready to buy.

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau, 1B—They haven’t made clear that they’re going to trade him, but if he goes I say—and have said for months—that he goes to the Dodgers.

Josh Willingham, OF—They’re not trading him.

Denard Span, CF—They’re not trading him.

Francisco Liriano, LHP—He’s in heavy demand and can start or relieve. The Yankees have long coveted him and could use him in either role.

Carl Pavano, RHP—He’s back in his office (the disabled list). He won’t be back in time to be dealt at the deadline, but he’ll get through waivers in August and wind up somewhere. The Red Sox will take him for nothing.

Oakland Athletics

Grant Balfour, RHP; Kurt Suzuki, C—The A’s can’t justify dumping salary while they’re hovering around contention. They’re not making the playoffs and are playing over their heads, but they’re playing well and moving anyone for reasons other than to improve the team is not feasible.

Seattle Mariners

Jason Vargas, LHP—Once the bigger names come off the board, Vargas is a viable back-of-the-rotation starter who’s relatively cheap and under team control through 2013. The Braves do lots of yapping about being in on “big” names like Zack Greinke, then wind up trading for a Vargas-type.

Felix Hernandez, RHP—They’re not trading him.

Brandon League, RHP—League is a mediocre reliever, but throws hard and has been unlucky this season. The Giants are always interested in improving their bullpen.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—What happened to this guy? The only thing I can see as possible is if the Angels are so desperate to get rid of Vernon Wells that they pick up the difference in the two contracts and send Wells to Seattle to get Figgins back. He was a very good player for the Angels.

Kevin Millwood, RHP—I’d probably prefer the veteran Millwood to Vargas. He’s been serviceable this season and has post-season experience. The Cardinals need some starting pitching.

Ichiro Suzuki, RF—According to GM Jack Zduriencik, Ichiro (.264/.290/.358) is still a “franchise” player. Jack Z can start cleaning out his office. Someone would take Ichiro, but evidently he’s not available. This is how teams that lose 90+ games for four straight years are built and maintained!

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American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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We can tick Edwin Encarnacion off the board of potentially available players as the Blue Jays signed him to a 3-year, $29 million extension. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post. Now let’s have a look at the AL West and which teams should buy, sell or stand pat and what they should be looking for.

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

I’m not discussing any Cole Hamels rumors from now on. He’s going to be the hot topic and used as an easy “news” story designed to garner webhits. But the Rangers are absolutely going to pursue him and will make the decisive move to get a starting pitcher from somewhere. Roy Oswalt’s had two bad starts and two good starts; Neftali Feliz is on the 60-day disabled list. It’s no wonder they’re pursuing Hamels, Zack Greinke and will undoubtedly be in on Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and anyone else who’s available or not available like Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

They’ll also try to bolster their bullpen with an extra arm or two like Grant Balfour, Jose Mijares or Joe Thatcher.

Los Angeles Angels

Talk of another starting pitcher, on the surface, sounds like overkill. But it was put logically recently (I’m not sure where I read it) that since Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options at the end of the season and neither have pitched very well, they’ll have the money free to go after Hamels or Greinke. The Angels like pitching.

If I had to guess now what they’re going to do at the end of the season, they’ll decline Santana’s option and exercise Haren’s if he’s healthy.

Since they’re 8th in the American League in runs scored, the on-the-surface suggestion would be that they’ll need a bat. But the early season horrible hitting cost coach Mickey Hatcher his job and they began to score once Mike Trout was recalled and Vernon Wells got hurt. The Wells situation will have to be resolved when he returns from the disabled list. I would think the last and possibly only resort is to eat the $42+ million remaining on his contract and dump him.

They could use a lefty specialist like Mijares or Thatcher and if the Brewers make Francisco Rodriguez available, a reunion with his former team would be a positive for both sides.

Oakland Athletics

Who would’ve thought the A’s could legitimately consider being buyers at mid-season? Certainly not me. Credit goes to Billy Beane for getting solid youngsters from the Diamondbacks and Nationals in off-season trades. Yoenis Cespedes is another matter since he’s supremely talented and injury-prone.

They’re not going to buy and they’re not going to clear the decks of everything from the roster to the light fixtures to the sinks.

Balfour will be in demand; perhaps they can get a couple of minor leaguers for a team that needs a back-end starter in Bartolo Colon (how about the Mets?). I’d probably find a taker for Daric Barton. It’s not going to happen for him with the A’s and he does have some attributes.

Seattle Mariners

According to Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, “…the Mariners do not appear to be gearing any efforts towards contention before 2015.”

Jeez.

Baker’s column was in reference to the suggestion that they pursue Justin Upton, but if they have no intention of contending until 2015 they not only shouldn’t buy, but they should look to trade Hernandez. What good is going to do them if they’re not going to contend for another two years?

Whether it’s ownership interfering with GM Jack Zduriencik or not, it can’t be ignored that the Mariners’ offense is historically awful with four regular players batting .203 or below and all four—Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins—were brought in by Zduriencik.

2015? The Mariners have a loyal fanbase, money to spend, a horse at the top of the rotation and young pitching on the way.

If this is true, then they should sell any player making significant money and that includes King Felix. As it is, they’ll look to move Brandon League and listen on Jason Vargas. Anyone want Figgins? I thought not.

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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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There’s No Rift In Anaheim

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Speculation about a rift between Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and the new GM Jerry Dipoto rose greatly when—to the displeasure of Scioscia—hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired earlier this week. The two are clearly not on the same page as to how a club should be run. The chain-of-command that had been present with the Angels for Scioscia’s entire tenure is broken. The slow start combined with these structural changes could lead to a parting of the ways following the season.

It’s understandable from both perspectives.

Athletes in general will try to exert their will over their titular “boss”. In today’s game, there are no managers with the cachet to do and say whatever they want; to discipline their players; to run the club as if they’re in complete command. The days of Earl Weaver ruling his Orioles with an iron fist are long gone. Back then, Weaver was going nowhere. Everyone in the Orioles clubhouse knew it and reacted accordingly. Scioscia himself spent his entire playing career with the Dodgers and Tom Lasorda who was similarly entrenched.

It’s the way it’s been with the Angels for his managerial tenure.

But with a new GM and new club construction come changes everywhere—not just in payroll and playing style. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno had businesslike intentions when he signed Albert Pujols. After signing Pujols, the Angels agreed to a lucrative television contract with Fox Sports worth $3 billion for 20 years. He’s turned the Angels into a cash machine as George Steinbrenner did with the Yankees. But in the process, Moreno unwittingly made his cohesive club into a 1980s version of the Yankees with the requisite expectations of immediate gratification and demands to “do something” if those expectations aren’t met.

Hiring Dipoto as the GM was well-received following the resignation of Tony Reagins. Reagins’s tenure is pockmarked by the disastrous trade of Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells and his public firing of respected scouting director Eddie Bane, but Reagins also did many good things as Angels’ GM by signing Torii Hunter and trading for Mark Teixeira.

DiPoto is more of a stat-based, coldly analytical GM than Reagins and his predecessor Bill Stoneman were, but he does it with scouting savvy and the ability to express himself to the media and get his point across with the various factions that permeate an organization in today’s game.

But he wasn’t an “Angel”. He didn’t come up through the ranks with the Angels. He hasn’t been working with Scioscia, nor is he a part of the Angels’ culture. A new GM brings in a new set of principles and it’s clear that Dipoto won’t adhere to the oft-heard lament, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Time will tell whether that’s right or wrong, but from Scioscia’s point-of-view, his power base is gone and with it is a large amount of the sway he held in the clubhouse as a result of being seen not just as the manager, but as a boss.

For a manager like Scioscia to have his hand-picked hitting coach fired out from under him is emasculating, but the firing also altered his perception. The same players who kept inner turmoil in house and had each other’s backs are seeing the new dynamic of me-me-me overtaking the club. And that’s not good.

In order for there to be a rift, there had to have been a connection. With Dipoto and Scioscia, they’re working together; doubtless they respect one another; but they might not be suited to a long-term partnership.

That’s what both men have to decide upon in the next four—and the Angels hope—five months. (A fifth month would mean they made the playoffs.)

Judging by the first month-and-a-half, it’s going to be four. Then the Angels’ foundation will rumble and it won’t be because of an earthquake.

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Hatcher’s Firing Was Inevitable

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In an unavoidable decision, the Angels fired hitting coach Mickey HatcherESPN Story.

I called it on April 30th in the following clip from this posting.

(Arte Moreno’s) not a quick trigger owner, but if (the Angels are) not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

There will be talk that Scioscia’s sway over the organization is on the wane. Hatcher has been a coach on Scioscia’s staff since 2000. Twelve years is a long time. Maybe it’s too long.

Outsider speculation is just that. It’s hard to imaging Scioscia wanting to fire his hitting coach and friend, but there could also be an element of realization and pragmatism that something needed to be done. We don’t know whether Scioscia had a heavy hand in the decried decisions the Angels made in the past such as doling lucrative and wasted contracts on Gary Matthews Jr. and Justin Speier and making disastrous trades for Scott Kazmir and Vernon Wells. Scioscia had significant say-so in the team construction and this current group—on offense at least—is not the type of team that Scioscia generally preferred to have. For better or worse, he’s a National League-style manager who learned his trade under Tom Lasorda. What that means is that he liked having starting pitchers who gave him innings, a deep and diverse bullpen with a hard-throwing closer, a few boppers in the middle of the lineup, speed and defense.

Perhaps the failed decisions listed above were what caused the change in course in the front office from the manager having major input and the mandate to say no, to his opinion being taken under advisement with upper management doing what it wants whether the manager is onboard or not.

That’s pretty much how it is throughout baseball no matter who the manager is.

Following the drastic and uncharacteristic acquisition on Albert Pujols, there’s a lack of definition to this current Angels group.

No manager would say no to Pujols and eventually the rest of baseball is going to pay for what Pujols is going through at the moment. He’s not finished. He’s going to hit. But was it a decision that Scioscia would’ve made? Or would have preferred to spend that money elsewhere on a better bullpen? Another starting pitcher? An infielder who can do it all? Given the template of the Angels and what they needed, Jose Reyes was a better fit for the team than Pujols was, but with the new cable network deal on the way and Moreno’s desire to be the focus of Southern California, he wanted the big fish and got him.

The firing of Hatcher is cosmetic. To suggest that anyone aside from Pujols receives credit or blame for what he does on the field is silly. We can’t judge with any certainty how much a hitting coach influences a player when he steps up to the plate. The media will try to anoint certain coaches a mythical, guru status when, in reality, it’s the hitters themselves who do the dirty work. Many times a hitter simply needs someone with whom he connects regardless of the information he’s receiving. If the coach says good morning to him in the right way or gets in the player’s face when necessary, it will be seen as the “turning point”.

Was it a turning point? Or did the hitter just happen to meet the perfect person to make him feel better mentally to go up to the plate in the state he—as the individual—needed to succeed? That state could be anger, it could be peace or it could be anything. We don’t know.

Did Charlie Lau make George Brett or was Brett going to shine through with or without Lau?

Did Lou Piniella’s adjustments with Don Mattingly convincing Mattingly to try and pull the inside pitches over the short right field wall at Yankee Stadium create Donnie Baseball or would he have done it once he grew comfortable in the big leagues?

Hitting coaches like Rudy Jaramillo have been lauded and hired amid great fanfare and not helped at all in the bottom line.

The hitting coach is a convenient scapegoat to wake up the team, to put forth the pretense of “doing something” and to send a message to the manager.

In the case of the Angels, it’s probably all three.

It might not help, but given the talent on the roster, they certainly can’t be much more of a disappointment than they’ve already been.

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American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Let’s take a look at some American League teams that have unexpectedly struggled or made ghastly blunders that would normally elicit a reaction from ownerships.

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote what I’d been thinking about a George Steinbrenner missive being issued following Michael Pineda’s injury.

I’m not going to give Cashman as hard a time as others did for letting Bartolo Colon go and keeping Freddy Garcia—neither could’ve been expected to replicate anything close to what they did last season—but his other pitching mishaps have been horrific. As much of a joke as Steinbrenner was for his instantaneous and combustible temper tantrums, many times he had a right to be angry.

Beyond Cashman, if the Boss was still around, Larry Rothschild would be in the crosshairs for what’s gone wrong with Phil Hughes.

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

There’s really not much they can do. Having already bounced Garcia from the rotation in favor of David Phelps, Hughes has to improve or he’ll be in the bullpen or minor leagues when Andy Pettitte is set to return to the majors.

What will be done?

Hal Steinbrenner will be secretive and deliberate; Hank will be kept away from the telephone. Cashman will continue to spin doctor and “take responsibility” by saying how “devastated” he is about Pineda.

Devastated? Really?

Garcia will be kept around just in case and Hughes is going to wind up being sent to the minors.

The Boss would’ve made Cashman take responsibility in a way consistent with what Madden suggested and he wouldn’t have been out of line in doing so.

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

The best things that could’ve happened to the Red Sox were the Sunday night rainout of the game against the Yankees and going on the road to play the bad Twins and mediocre White Sox. The ship has been righted to a certain degree.

For all the love doled out to departed GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, ownership—John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino—have been left to clean up the mess. Regardless of what you think of Lucchino’s insinuating himself into the baseball operations as he has, you can’t absolve Epstein and Francona. Epstein saddled the club with the contracts of John Lackey and Carl Crawford; Francona’s lax discipline as manager and passive aggressiveness from the broadcast booth as the team spiraled out of the gate gave a sense of the former manager exacting revenge on the franchise that gave him a job with a team ready-built for success when no one else would’ve.

What should be done?

A desperate trade would only make matters worse. There’s no one to fire. They have to wait and hope. Making a final decision with Daniel Bard and sticking to it would end speculation on the pitcher’s role.

What will be done?

They’ll wait it out. Had they continued losing following the series against the Yankees, they might’ve done something drastic like firing Bobby Valentine even though it’s not all his fault. Their winning streak has given them breathing room.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

Arte Moreno has been a great owner. He’s let his baseball people run the club and hasn’t interfered. They have everything they ask for and more.

This past winter, he spent an uncharacteristic amount of money to address the offensive woes from 2011 with Albert Pujols and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen’s missteps have been magnified because set-up man Hisanori Takahashi and closer Jordan Walden have been horrible.

That’s not to say they’d be that much better with a more proven closer than the deposed Walden. In retrospect, they were lucky they didn’t sign Ryan Madson or trade for Andrew Bailey.

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

When an owner throws that amount of guaranteed money at his roster, he has a right to expect more than 7-15 and 9 games out of first place before April is over.

What should be done?

The Angels released Bobby Abreu on Friday and recalled Mike Trout. They demoted Walden from the closer’s role in favor of Scott Downs.

Apart from waiting for Pujols to start hitting and perhaps dumping Vernon Wells, there’s little else of note they can try.

What will be done?

If Moreno were a capricious, “blame someone for the sake of blaming them” type, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz would have been fired a week ago and perhaps first base coach Alfredo Griffin for good measure.

He’s not a quick trigger owner, but if they’re not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

It could get ugly.

As of right now, they’ll see if the jettisoning of Abreu, the insertion of Trout and the new closer will help. With Moreno, they have more time than most clubs would, but that doesn’t mean they have forever.

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The National League will be posted later and yes, that does mean I’ll be talking about the Marlins.

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Oswalt Overkill and Desperation

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In the category of unsubstantiated rumors of the day, the Angels are supposedly the “frontrunners” for fussy free agent righty Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox are thinking about moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

Or not in both cases.

If there’s a grain of truth in the rumors, they’re connected to one another in what should happen.

Of course that has nothing to do with what will happen.

First, with the Angels and Oswalt, do the Angels need another name starter? Are they going to use whatever money it costs—even if the template for Oswalt’s contract is the Andy Pettitte deal with the Yankees—to bolster an overwhelming strength in the starting rotation?

With an innings-eating front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana, the Angels will be perfectly fine with Jerome Williams (who pitched quite well last season) as their fifth starter. In spite of the acquisition of Albert Pujols and what appears to be an overabundance of bats with too few positions to go around, the offense is still shaky with Vernon Wells a black hole; Bobby Abreu whining his way out of town; and the unknown of Kendrys Morales.

As of right now, the only true offensive guarantee they have is Pujols.

The bullpen may need boosting during the season as well. Are they intent on spending the money they have left now on a player they really don’t need in Oswalt?

Why?

Oswalt’s had multiple injuries in recent years and wouldn’t be ready to pitch until May.

And they don’t need him.

It makes no sense.

On the other hand, there’s one destination that makes sense for Oswalt, where he would be a need and not overkill—the Red Sox.

Another rumor that made the rounds this weekend (and was only reported as a possibility in one place—link) is that the Red Sox have seen enough of Bard in the starting rotation and he’ll be shifted back to the bullpen.

There are numerous possibilities surrounding this revelation if it’s true. The Red Sox could be dropping a rock into the water to see the ripples it causes in the public and media; perhaps they wanted to pressure Bard into pitching better in his next start (which was yesterday) after the story came out. His results were similar to what he’s done all spring—not particularly good—but manager Bobby Valentine made it a point to say he liked Bard’s demeanor better than he had in prior starts.

What that means for the future is anyone’s guess.

The Red Sox are not in a position to be putting Bard back in the bullpen. If they do that and move Alfredo Aceves to the starting rotation, they’ll be trading one problem for another. Aceves is not durable enough to be a 180-200 inning starter and he’s too valuable and versatile in the bullpen to start. If they determine that Bard can’t start, their only real option is Oswalt. Apart from that, they’re going to be in bigger trouble that I thought. And bear in mind that I picked them to go 81-81 this year. If Bard is unable to be at least a serviceable starter and they’re relegated to using castoffs in the number 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, they’re in trouble. A lot of it.

Oswalt would be their only choice and the same issues that make him a questionable fit for the Angels would make him a desperation shot for the Red Sox. If they continue down this line of thought, desperation might be all they have left.

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Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

If anyone has already purchased the book and noticed there were formatting mistakes, they’ve been fixed and republished; so you can re-download the book.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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