Jim Crane Tells Astros Fans What He Thinks Of Them

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In this Wall Street Journal column by Brian Costa discussing the Astros’ decision to gut the big league product, strip it down to nothing and basically assure that it has the chance to approach the “accomplishments” (is “decomplishments” a word?) of the worst teams in the history of baseball, owner Jim Crane made some arrogant statements that would make Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria cringe at the unthinking and obnoxious audacity.

The money quote from the mostly laudatory piece was the following:

“It doesn’t bother me that people want us to spend more money,” Crane said. “But it’s not their money. This is a private company, even though it’s got a public flair to it. If they want to write a check for 10 million bucks, they can give me a call.”

Was Crane smiling when he said this? Was he being facetious? Was he serious in essentially kicking the remaining fans that will be willing to pay money to go watch the 110+ loss monstrosity they’ve put together in displaying this level of “screw you” attitude?

While refreshing in its honesty, Crane is forgetting that he’s in a service industry and the fans are the key to making a baseball team work. Baseball is different from a “normal” business and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The roster the Astros have put together is going to have significant impact on the fortunes of many of those other teams due to their historic awfulness. Jobs will be saved and lost; teams will make or miss the playoffs based on their ability to beat on the Astros. In years past, I would have agreed with Crane if they made an effort to put a competent big league product on the field. That can be done as the Marlins under the aforementioned Loria have shown several times. The Astros aren’t doing that.

When your best pitcher is Lucas Harrell; your best hitter is Jose Altuve; and your closer is Jose Veras, you’re not winning a lot of games especially in the American League West. They’re feeding their fans garbage with the promise of a potential future coming to fruition in perhaps 2016 if all goes well with their rebuild. The elephant in the room is that there are no guarantees that it’s going to work.

They’re operating within the rules, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the game and it made me rethink my belief that teams shouldn’t be forced to spend a minimum amount on payroll as they are in other sports such as the NFL and NHL. It’s bad enough that the Astros are not competitive, but that they’re so blatantly wallowing in the lack of competitiveness and doing so on purpose to garner revenue sharing money and have more cash to spend in the draft and on international free agent makes it feel overtly wrong. Crane’s statement to that effect is bold, frank and distasteful to the fans who will be willing to come to the park to watch the Astros in their current form.

As you can see here, it’s not a cheap little trek to go to Minute Maid Park with the most inexpensive tickets being $5 for the privilege of sitting in the upper deck of the outfield, then rising incrementally with the best seats fetching $160 a pop. Then they’re paying to park and spending money on food and items while there. Does that not count in Crane’s demands of someone who wants to watch a better team to give him money towards that end?

Crane’s right in that it’s a private company, but it’s a private company that is functioning within a group dynamic with 29 other teams. There’s also a certain amount of, as Billy Joel put it, “they rub my neck and I write ‘em a check and they go their merry way,” in being a sports owner. Maybe Crane felt that he made his money in private business and deserves to own something he can: A) enjoy; B) make money at while spending a limited amount of cash; and C) not have to eat crap from people.

He’ll learn, though, that he does have to eat crap from people. In this life, it’s unavoidable in getting what one wants. The President of the United States has to scrounge for money; pose for photographs; sell his agenda. It applies to everyone. The only possible way to prevent it is to make enough money to disappear; make other people enough money to disappear; or not have any money at all. And then disappear.

I mentioned Loria and he’s a relevant figure as a comparison. Considering the vitriol he attracts, think about this: he probably is being somewhat muted in his responses when criticized. So when he storms out of a press conference; makes ridiculous assertions that not even a sycophantic assistant would believe; calls former players like Jose Reyes liars; or insinuates that the fans should be grateful that they now have a beautiful new ballpark in Miami (without mentioning that they paid for it), he’s dialed down what he really wants to say by a substantial percentage. If a person is disposable in his eyes, I’d venture to guess that he makes George Steinbrenner look like Art Rooney in his treatment of them.

Crane showed the real Crane in his comments and it’s not a pretty picture. The ruthless businessman stuff isn’t going to sell while his team is this rancid. He needs to learn when to use “owner speak” and say something without saying anything or we’ll hear far worse than this in the coming years especially if the rebuild doesn’t go according to the blueprint or the inherent expectations in the conclusion of the WSJ piece:

“I didn’t make $100 million by making a lot of dumb mistakes,” Crane said. “We’re not going to get everything right, but we’re going to get a lot right.”

This article was not a good place to start in getting things “right.”

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And Hal Was Supposed to be the Sane Steinbrenner Son

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Hal Steinbrenner spoke about the state of the Yankees today. Brian Costa has a recap of his comments in their entirety.

It finally appears to be sinking in that the Yankees really, truly, honestly are not going to find bricks of money hidden in a secret compartment behind the monument section of Yankee Stadium; that they’re actually intent on a 2014 payroll of $189 million. Or lower!!!

And the fans are panicking.

Steinbrenner, while expressing inexplicable surprise that fans and media are upset that the biggest name the Yankees have imported this winter has been a reviled former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis and the next biggest is Russ Canzler, is showing a blindness to reality that not even his father George or brother Hank could muster.

Judging by his statement about the $189 million goal for 2014 in saying that it will only be that high if he thinks the team has a chance to contend for a championship, there won’t be a sneak attack on the rest of baseball with a Yankees spending spree that’s been their consistent manner of doing business for the entire tenure the family has owned the team. Given the reaction to that nugget, we may see him backtrack on it when the public relations hit expands to the proportions it will in the coming days.

But clarification won’t alter the truth and the truth seems to be that the Yankees’ vault is closed.

The comment of not needing a $220 million payroll to win a championship places the onus directly on GM Brian Cashman to figure a way to do what the majority of baseball has to do and function in a universe where there’s not a wellspring of cash to cover failed prospects, bad trades and disastrous free agent signings.

Is there something we don’t know? Are the Steinbrenners lowering the payroll for a reason? Did they sell a chunk of the YES Network to News Corp. with the intention to sell the whole thing—network and team—and get out of baseball completely in the next couple of years? Or are they having financial problems that have yet to be disclosed?

The rising luxury tax and outside expenditures is a legitimate excuse for the club to take steps to save a significant amount of money. Hal mentions this. But now it’s becoming something more than a number they’re shooting for. Hal’s latest assertions do not bode well for the future of a team that has relied on money to maintain their position at or near the top of baseball since 1994. In fact, they sound as if they’re consciously shifting the expectations in an effort to prepare the fans for the inevitable reality that this is it; that there won’t be a blockbuster deal made right before spring training to again vault the Yankees back to World Series favorites.

Much like Hank said that a struggling Mike Mussina needed to learn to pitch like Jamie Moyer, it may be that Hal, with some justification, is looking at clubs like the Athletics and Rays and seeing that they didn’t need to spend Yankee money to build winning clubs, and he’s insisting on Cashman figuring out how to win with less money. There’s a logic to the concept and it’s not as if they’re reducing payroll to the less than $75 million that those clubs spend. It’s not absurd to say to Cashman, “Is $189 million not enough to win? Why can Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane figure out how to do it and you can’t?”

But Beane and Friedman learned their trade without any money. There’s a significant difference between never having had any money to spend and suddenly having it and vice versa. Cashman has never been in the position where there was a limit on his spending power. It’s somewhat unfair to think that he’ll seamlessly transition to a new method diametrically opposed to what he’s grown accustomed to.

It certainly doesn’t help that Cashman’s talent recognition skills and drafts have been mostly disastrous; that he shunned international players like Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman who, in years past, would have been Yankees, period. That they were gunshy from the nightmarish signings of Jose Contreras and Kei Igawa is more of an indictment on the Yankees and their ability to recognize talent rather than pigeonhole players based on past mistakes. The avoidance of Darvish and Chapman was portrayed as a decision not to pay for unknowns, but they were afraid of spending for players who weren’t worth it when they should’ve signed both.

Following the trade for Michael Pineda and Cashman’s other pitching disasters, how is it reasonable to think he’ll learn how to adapt to this new template on a terrain he’s never had to navigate. It’s like taking Cashman and dropping him in the middle of NASA and telling him to build a spaceship—he doesn’t know how to do it and it’s delusional to expect him to be able to.

Cashman has not developed any star starting pitchers and there have been few position players apart from Robinson Cano to be nurtured by and make it big as Yankees. When he tried to grow his own pitchers with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, it resulted in the lone missed playoff season of 2008 since the mid-1990s. In the aftermath, he did what the Yankees have always done: he threw money at the problem and it worked.

As far as youngsters go, the latest excuses we’ve heard from Cashman include the high percentage of success in Tommy John surgery that the prize prospect Manny Banuelos underwent; that he intended to draft Mike Trout; that he did draft Gerrit Cole.

The bottom line is that Banuelos, Pineda, Jose Campos, Dellin Betances and other supposed future Yankees stars have shown no indication of being anything close to what the team will need to transition from the days of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte to a new era without those stalwarts. Cole didn’t sign when the Yankees drafted him in the first round in 2008. He went to college and is about to make it to the big leagues with the Pirates. Trout wasn’t available and they drafted Slade Heathcott. Heathcott is a year older than Trout and is still in A ball; Trout almost won the AL MVP. Nobody wants to hear about what Cashman “would’ve” done. They want to hear about what he did and plans to do. There’s no answer yet.

Now there’s no money to throw around and they’re stagnating, telling fans to be patient, thinking they’ve done more than they have by signing stars well past their primes and hoping that there’s one more run left in the remaining core Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte with all three returning from significant injuries. There’s an absence of comprehension with the Steinbrenner sons that was heretofore perceived to be a hallmark of the personality of their father.

Like a person who grew up wealthy and had everything done for him, Cashman is incapable of functioning without that financial safety net. Learning on the fly, perhaps he’ll be able to succeed in this Yankees landscape, but perhaps he won’t. Either way, it’s bound to take time to adjust and one thing Cashman doesn’t have is time. For Friedman, constraints have given him freedom. Because he has no money, an ownership with whom he works hand-in-hand and trusts him implicitly, and a fanbase that either understands the circumstances or ignores the team altogether, Friedman can trade Matt Garza; he can trade James Shields; he can listen to offers on David Price; he can let Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton leave without making an offer to keep them. Cashman can’t do that and if he was given approval to build his team similarly to the Rays and made the attempt to let Cano leave via free agency, how long would he last before the groundswell of fan anger exploded, leaving the Steinbrenners no choice but to placate the fans and make a change to a new GM? For Cashman, constraints are just constraints and he’s shown neither the skill nor the experience at working that way to tapdance his way around them.

Read the statements from Hal Steinbrenner and accept them, because it’s not a diversionary tactic. It’s real.

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Of Course Bankruptcy is on the Table for the Mets

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The Mets have hired CRG Partners, a consulting firm that assisted the Texas Rangers in their bankruptcy and sale. Naturally, it’s being assumed that this is in preparation for an eventual bankruptcy and sale of the financially hemorrhaging Mets.

So what would happen if the Mets’ situation reached avalanche proportions so they had to start selling the light fixtures and they were entirely unprepared for the legal and practical ramifications for such a move?

What would be said then?

It’s at the point where everything the Mets organization does or doesn’t do is dissected to find some underlying “truth” that they’re not disclosing.

But what if what they’re saying is the truth? What if the apparent spin doctoring to keep the wolves at bay is what’s really going on?

Are the Mets preparing for a bankruptcy or did they hire CRG to, as the club statement says, “provide services in connection with financial reporting and budgeting processes”?

Does it really matter?

If the Mets hired a “turnaround specialist” to help with their morass of debt and legal entanglements, isn’t that the wise thing to do? Aren’t they performing their due diligence based on current circumstances?

This story doesn’t automatically imply a bankruptcy filing is on the horizon; obviously that’s on the table, but regardless of public perception and until the Madoff trial begins, the Wilpons are within their rights to do everything they can to keep the team.

As absurd as it sounds, has anyone ever truly considered the possibility that they were victimized by Madoff as so many others were? There’s a presumption of guilt surrounding the Wilpons, in part, because the club has been run so haphazardly on the field and the front office has been adept at telling half-truths and misleading the media and public with semantics. Because of that, they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt for anything they say, but logically what they’ve done is what they should do to prepare for every eventuality.

The entire episode has turned into a spitting contest over the breaking of the story, what the hiring means and the fans newest attempts to get the Wilpons to sell the team immediately.

This new culture of being the “first to report” has degenerated reporting into stories coming out based on anonymous sources whether they’re accurate and reliable or not. It appears that this story has been reported accurately, but it’s on the short list in that achievement.

I’d rather be right than first.

What Mets fans have to understand is that the Madoff trial and the Mets ownership issues are not going to be resolved in the near future; no matter how much complaining, threats and ridicule are doled out, nothing is going to change that. Fans are of the opinion that they have this power over ownership by their self-indulgent ranting about the way the franchise has unraveled and that their demands will be met immediately.

Mark Cuban is not buying the Mets tomorrow no matter how many times you demand it.

Is it more enjoyable for fans to be talking about the pursuit and signing of big name free agents like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and keeping Jose Reyes? Absolutely.

Does the endless public vitriol directed at the franchise affect the Wilpons when they have bigger things to worry about? No.

The Mets are under no obligation to even respond to these allegations—the club is not a public enterprise; they’re owned by a private entity—so they replied with a statement that’s exacerbated the factions of will they or won’t they file for bankruptcy.

But does it matter?

Really?

In the grand scheme, I don’t think it does.

It’s a story because it’s a story—an end unto itself with no legitimate endgame until the trial and its results are known. Until then, what’s the difference?

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These Are Your Jets; This Is Your Coach

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Rex Ryan was brimming with confidence when he took over as Jets coach, but it wasn’t blustery for the sake of noise, it was real. Bringing along the 46 defense and a reputation for speaking his mind, Ryan swaggered into the Tri-State area trying to change the Jets culture from one expecting to be the second class citizen in area football and a punching bag that folded or found some clever way to lose when they were on the cusp of something special.

It’s no wonder the Jets and Mets have long been associated as brothers in innovative failure.

Ryan’s personality and looseness are designed to attract players. Whether that attraction is due to the fine line of letting the players be themselves or having zero discipline is an important question. His father, Buddy, was known for building great defenses; feistiness; the close relationships he forged with his players; fighting with management, fellow and opposing coaches; and losing in the playoffs.

Up until now, Rex Ryan’s mouth has mostly been backed up by consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game. They lost both games because the Jets, based on ability, had no right to be there to begin with. They were lucky; they were opportunistic; they were pretty good; and they were playing with house money.

House money is an interesting analogy considering Ryan’s penchant for his mouth being the equivalent of the purple suited, high-rolling pimp riding up in an Escalade and emerging in all his gaudiness, resplendent rings (one being of the Super Bowl variety won as a Ravens assistant) decorating both hands, and a booming voice designed to have the masses turn and look at him as he struts into the casino flashing wads of cash, ready for action.

The attention is the key and it’s meaningless to him whether it’s because they’re irritated by him or impressed with his brashness.

The problem with that for one who’s operating on the wrong side of societal propriety is that the attention can cause unwanted legal entanglements.

For a football coach, it makes the rest of the league, fans and media want that gauche figure to be put in his place—especially in the insular and mostly conservative world of football.

This season, the Jets were supposed to take the next step from back-to-back second place finishers in the AFC to the elite in the game.

I’m not going to start delving out of my realm and try to find reasons why the Jets ended up 8-8 and didn’t follow through on Ryan’s guarantee of a Super Bowl, but I can discuss what I know about people and the influence his pronouncements of greatness and superiority have had on his team’s results; that he’s rapidly gone from moderately entertaining to tiresome to borderline delusional.

Comparisons of the Jets to teams that maintained the perception of lax discipline or were the preferred destinations for ne’er-do-wells and malcontents fall flat when they’re examined in depth.

The Raiders were known as a halfway house for players whom no other team could control or whose talent couldn’t be unlocked under conventional football-style disciplines; the truth was that in their heyday, John Madden and Tom Flores were in charge of their teams and Al Davis was always hovering around as a powerful figure who could not only keep the players from crossing that fine line between being edgy but worthwhile and more trouble than they were worth. Push Davis too far and there was a great chance a player would never find another job in football—not just as a player, but period.

The Cowboys of the 1990s had a similar aura of chaos, but Jimmy Johnson was able to play ringleader to Jerry Jones’s circus and keep the Michael Irvins of his team off the police blotter. When Barry Switzer took over, it was a free-for-all; there was no one to slam down the hammer because the head coach and the owner were acting just as self-indulgently as the players were and the requisite hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do” didn’t exist under Switzer because he didn’t want to be seen as a hypocrite.

But it’s the coach’s job to be a hypocrite.

Those Cowboys managed to win another championship under Switzer, but the wheels came off shortly thereafter in part because of that cannibalistic hubris.

If a coach or player is going to open each press conference with continuous proclamations of his own greatness, then he’d better come through.

Mark Messier, Jimmy Rollins and Joe Namath made their guarantees and performed in their games to make the guarantees come to pass. Realistically, what would’ve happened had the Rangers lost in 1994? Had the 2007 Phillies not come back to catch and pass the Mets? Had the Jets of 1968-1969 not won the Super Bowl? Nothing. But because these men said they were going to win and did, they became legends. That it was circumstantial is irrelevant.

No one remembers those who said they were going to win and didn’t, but they’re going to remember Ryan because he says the same things over and over and refuses to back down; the more something is said, the less meaning it has.

Even if the Jets do win at some point following another Ryan decree, what good did it do if, on the 50th, he happened to be right? It’s as if he’s playing darts with a blindfold and saying he’ll hit the bullseye. Eventually, he’ll hit it. So?

The Jets are a rogue outfit under the stewardship of a coach who doesn’t have the first concept of taking the toys away from his spoiled brats.

Compromising principles for expediency will eventually come full circle and haunt the transgressor; he may still achieve the initial goal because of that concession, but a price needs to be paid.

The problem the Jets have is that Ryan doesn’t seem to have principles to compromise. It’s all full speed ahead; double, triple and quadruple down on the high-rolling bet he made at the beginning.

Interestingly Tom Coughlin, the coach that beat Ryan last week and is the polar opposite in terms of personality and the way he handles his lockerroom, was considered the fascist that no one wanted to play for when he had endless rules and regulations for the expansion Jaguars. In this Sports Illustrated article, Coughlin summed it up perfectly in the following clip:

“Let me say this,” he said, pointing an index finger at a camp visitor. “You only get one time to make a first impression. You can’t start easy and then get strict on players.”

Ryan can’t maintain this roster, come storming into camp in 2012 and say, “That’s it, I’m pulling in the reins!” First, no one would buy into it because that’s not his style—he can’t be someone he’s not and remain authentic; second, if the Jets are going to purge the problem people on the team, they’re looking at a significant alteration in their personnel from the one that Ryan guaranteed was winning the Super Bowl this season. If he’s allowed to do it, he’d better win because few if any coaches get a third rebuild.

In this Wall Street Journal report of today’s elimination loss to the Dolphins, Ryan somewhat adjusted his over-the-top persona:

“I’m always going to chase the Super Bowl,” Ryan said. “If you don’t, you’re going to be a loser. You have to have the guts to go for that.”

There’s a slight difference between “chasing” and “guaranteeing”.

Because of Ryan’s decision to administrate his team in this way—with the inmates running the asylum and a conscious choice to make outrageous statements—the Jets can’t drastically reset their template even if they get rid of some players and assistant coaches.

This is it.

The coach needs to shut up.

But we all know he won’t.

And by now, he can’t.

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Mount Kill-A-Met-Jaro

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I searched the web and social media sites and no one—no one!?!—came up with the clever “Kill-A-Met-Jaro” gag? I’m disappointed with the world in general and impressed with myself in particular.

More so than usual.

With the Mets having advised pitcher R.A. Dickey that they: A) would prefer he doesn’t try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro; and B) won’t pay him if he does and is unable to pitch due to an injury incurred during the expedition, it’s not necessarily a “no” from the Mets; it’s just an advisory of the risks Dickey is inviting by doing it against club wishes.

In this Wall Street Journal piece, Brian Costa relates Dickey’s preparation for the task and the Mets objections.

D.J. Carrasco continues being an unending burden on the Mets. This time it’s not for his performance or that the club, for some reason, gave him a 2-year contract last winter, but that he purchased the oxygen deprivation mask in which Dickey trains for the climb.

Carrasco’s a gift in his own right—the kind that keeps on giving.

All kidding aside, Dickey’s highly educated; a bit quirky; and a grown man—he can do what he wants—but for someone who took so long and had such a long and arduous road to stick in the big leagues and garner a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, it’s a bit irresponsible to put himself at risk even if there supposedly isn’t that much risk.

From the time he was drafted and the Rangers discovered that he was born without an ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and slashed his signing bonus because of it; to his ineffectiveness and big league struggles; then bouncing between the minors and majors trying to master the knuckleball and finally landing with the Mets, Dickey must’ve decided that the climb is a worthwhile endeavor.

It’s his right to do it, but it’s also within the Mets rights to try to talk him out of it and remind him of the professional and personal gamble he’s taking.

I was a guest today with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City talking about Yorvit Torrealba‘s shoving incident with the umpire in Venezuela. The show begins at 7 PM Central Time.

Click on the link above; check my Twitter/Facebook pages; or back here to listen.

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