Captainship in Baseball

Award Winners, Books, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Politics, Spring Training, Stats

The Yankees name Derek Jeter captain and it’s part of their “rich tapestry of history.” The Mets do it with David Wright and it’s foundation for ridicule. Neither is accurate. What has to be asked about baseball and captaincies is whether there’s any value in it on the field or if it’s shtick.

The three current captains in baseball are Wright, Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox. In the past, teams have had captains but the most prominent in recent memory have been Jason Varitek of the Red Sox and Jeter. The Mets named John Franco the captain of the team in May of 2001 and he had a “C” stitched to his jersey like he was leading the New York Rangers on the ice for a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Varitek was named captain of the Red Sox after his somewhat contentious free agency foray following the Red Sox World Series win in 2004. The Red Sox couldn’t let Varitek leave a week after losing Pedro Martinez to the Mets, but they didn’t want to give him the no-trade clause that Varitek had said was a deal-breaker. Varitek’s pride was at stake and the unsaid compromise they made was to give Varitek the captaincy and no no-trade clause. Whether or not Varitek was savvy enough to catch onto the trick is unknown. It reminded me of an old episode of Cheers when—ironically—the fictional former Red Sox reliever Sam Malone and two other workers walked into the boss’s office seeking a raise and were met with a surprising agreeability and open checkbook as long as they didn’t ask for a title. They got the titles and not the raises.

Is the captaincy worth the attention? Will Wright do anything differently now that he’s officially the captain of the Mets—something that had been apparent for years? Probably not.

The Mets have had three prior captains. Keith Hernandez was named captain, similarly to Jeter, while he was the acknowledged leader and the team was in the midst of a slump in 1987 with management trying to fire up the troops and fans. An insulted Gary Carter was named co-captain in 1988 as a placating gesture. Then there was Franco. If the captain had any legitimate on-field value than for its novelty and “coolness” (Turk Wendell wanted the “C” in Franco’s jersey for that reason), a closer couldn’t be an effective captain and then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine certainly would not have named Franco his captain considering the difficult relationship between the two. Valentine’s reaction was probably an eye-roll and, “Yeah, whatever. Make him captain. As if it means anything.” Franco never got over Valentine taking the closer job away and giving it to Armando Benitez while Franco was hurt in 1999 and he got his revenge when, due to his close relationship with the Wilpons, he helped cement the decision to fire Valentine after the 2002 season. Franco could be divisive, selfish and vindictive when he wanted to be.

While the Yankees exhibit a smug superiority as to the “value” of their captains, there’s a perception—probably due to silent implication that the truth doesn’t feed the narrative of Yankees “specialness”—that the three “real” captains of the Yankees in their history have been Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Jeter. But did you know that Graig Nettles was a Yankees captain and thought so little of the “honor” that he angered George Steinbrenner by saying, in his typical caustic realism:

“Really, all I do as captain is take the lineups up to home plate before the game.” (Balls by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock, page 20, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984)

Of course Steinbrenner had a fit:

“The captain is supposed to show some leadership out there. That’s why he’s captain. To show leadership.” (Balls, page 21)

Nettles, the “captain” and so important to team success because of his leadership was traded to the Padres in the spring of 1984 after signing a contract to remain with the Yankees as a free agent after the 1983 season in large part because of that book.

Before Gehrig, the Yankees captain had been Hal Chase. Chase was a notorious gambler and repeatedly accused of throwing games. The Yankees would prefer Chase’s name not be affiliated with them in their current incarnation. Chase wasn’t a “Yankee,” he was a “Highlander.” Two different things I suppose.

After Nettles, the Yankees named Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph co-captains and then Don Mattingly as captain. The team didn’t win in those years and the captaincy didn’t help or hurt them toward that end. The teams weren’t very good, so they didn’t win.

The Yankees made a big show of the captaincy because Steinbrenner liked it. He thought it was important in a similar fashion to his rah-rah football speeches and constant haranguing of his field personnel with firings and entreaties to “do something” even when there was little that could be done.

Depending on who is named captain, it can matter in a negative sense if the individual walks around trying to lead and gets on the nerves of others. For example, if Curt Schilling was named a captain, he’d walk around with a beatific look on his face, altered body language and manner and make sure to do some “captaining,” whatever that is. But with Wright, nothing will change, and like Jeter and Konerko, it won’t matter much. It’s not going to affect the teams one way or the other whether the captain is in a Yankees uniform and has become part of their “storied history,” of if it’s the Mets and the world-at-large is waiting for the inevitable cheesiness that is a Mets trademark. It’s an honor and it’s nice for the fans, but that’s pretty much it.

//

Advertisements

The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part I: For The Blue Jays

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

After my posting yesterday entitled Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink wondering what the once-celebrated and now questioned Blue Jays’ GM was doing, he turned around and made a blockbuster trade to, on paper, place the Blue Jays squarely in the center of playoff contention for 2013. There must be a connection.

All they need now is a manager.

Here’s the trade breakdown:

Marlins trade RHP Josh Johnson; LHP Mark Buehrle; SS Jose Reyes; OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio; C John Buck and $4 million to the Blue Jays for SS Yunel Escobar; INF Adeiny Hechavarria; RHP Henderson Alvarez; C Jeff Mathis; and minor leaguers LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.

The Blue Jays had a payroll of around $84 million n 2012 and for 2013, with these contracts they just absorbed, that rises by around $30 million based on the additions and subtractions. Over the life of the contracts with Reyes’s and Buehrle’s deals backloaded, they’ve just taken on a lot of money. That’s before calculating the addition of Maicer Izturis and raises/contract escalations for existing players.

The Blue Jays are now a $100 million+ team and their roster implies that they have to contend. They gave up a lot, but are now relevant in the AL East as something other than a building, growing, and hoping entity.

The American League East is in flux. No longer are teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles sentenced to preseason relegation as a moderately annoying inconvenience that might put up a fight early in the season with the pretense of trying to contend only to be slapped down in July and raided for players by true contenders. It’s turned upside down. The Red Sox are a mess; the Yankees are trying to learn to function with payroll constraints and ancient, declining, expensive stars; the Rays are pinching pennies; and the Orioles and Blue Jays have legitimacy.

The afterglow still holds questions. Johnson is one of baseball’s best pitchers when he’s healthy, but has had shoulder issues. Reyes is surely going to be unhappy at having been moved from Miami to Toronto and having to play half his games on turf. Buehrle can pitch on Mars and provide 200 innings. Buck is a feast or famine part-timer. And given the redundancy of Bonifacio and Izturis and that they have nowhere to play him, Bonifacio might be making a brief stop in Toronto and be on the move again relatively soon.

On paper, the Blue Jays have jumped ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox; the 2012 Orioles were a creature of circumstance that will need to get better to maintain. The Blue Jays’ rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and J.A. Happ is already one of baseball’s best. The lineup is invigorated by a healthy Reyes to join Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Their questions are the bullpen and who’s going to manage the team. (Willie Randolph would be a good, under-the-radar consideration. He wouldn’t put up with the fundamental mistakes evident under John Farrell and Randolph deserves another chance.)

24 hours ago, I posed the question of where the Blue Jays are headed. They answered it with a flourish. They’re trying to win. With this collection of talent, there’s no excuse for them not to do that in 2013. In fact, they don’t have much of a choice.

//

New Age Collisions and Matt Holliday

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

The photo you see above is Graig Nettles kicking George Brett in game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. The Yankees eventually won the game and the pennant. A brawl occurred between the two teams following this incident. No one was kicked out of the game. (Get it?)

If that happened today, someone would have to be thrown out. I think. Although Roger Clemens was allowed to fling a projectile—a broken bat—at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series and didn’t get tossed. It’s a fine line between defending oneself and running the risk of getting ejected.

In last night’s game 2 of the NLCS, on a double play attempt, Marco Scutaro of the Giants was nailed and had his hip injured on a takeout slide by Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday.

You can watch it below.

Holliday was past the base and his specific intent was to hit Scutaro hard enough to prevent the double play. He did it cheaply with a dangerous roll block and raised arm making it doubly treacherous for the infielder. This isn’t little league and there’s a reasonable expectation for hard, clean play. Infielders have their own little tricks they use to prevent this from occurring. In general, they use the base for protection because the runner is technically not supposed to pass the base; they also throw the ball sidearm and specifically aim it at the runner’s head (this is taught) so the runner has to get down to avoid getting beaned. Holliday’s play was arguable in its legality/line-crossing because the ball and Holliday arrived nearly simultaneously and Scutaro didn’t have the time to hop out of the way or use the base as protection, nor could he throw the ball at Holliday’s head. Holliday did go past the base to get Scutaro.

It wasn’t overtly illegal, but it was a legal cheap shot.

On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver—a former catcher, no stranger to home plate collisions—compared the play to Buster Posey getting leveled by Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011. Posey had his ankle broken, needed surgery, and was lost for the season. It was his absence that set forth the chain-of-events that might have cost the Giants a second straight World Series and forced them to search for more offense and surrender their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

There was no comparison between the two hits because what Holliday did was questionable at best and dirty at worst. What Cousins did was within the rules. Rules and propriety don’t always intersect and if that’s the case, then baseball has to step in and clarify the grey areas.

What creates the controversy is that it’s so rare in today’s game. In the Royals-Yankees annual ALCS matchups (4 times in 5 years between 1976 and 1980), Royals’ DH/outfielder Hal McRae took every opportunity to try and send Yankees’ second baseman Willie Randolph into the left field seats and break up a double play. It’s perfectly acceptable for a runner to run into a fielder if he has the ball and is trying to tag him, but the last player I remember doing it was Albert Belle.

With catchers and runners, it’s an old-school play that some former catchers like McCarver, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would like to see outlawed, while Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s an integral, exciting, and necessary aspect of competition. No one will accuse any of the above ex-players of being wimps. All were tough, but disagree on the subject. Scioscia relished the contact and was the recipient of one of the most brutal collisions I’ve ever seen in 1985 when Jack Clark of the Cardinals barreled into him. Scioscia was knocked out; Clark was staggered as if he’d been he recipient of a George Foreman sledgehammer punch; and Scioscia held onto the ball.

Nobody runs over the catcher anymore. There’s a commercial playing in New York of Derek Jeter crashing into a catcher. When has Jeter ever run into a catcher? It’s almost never done, and when it is, it turns into a national catastrophe if one of the players gets hurt.

The camaraderie and brotherhood among the players also precludes these hard plays. Everyone knows each other now. With the limited degrees of separation and the amount of money at stake, few are willing to take the chance of ruining another player’s career. You don’t see knockdown pitches; you don’t see take-out slides; you don’t see busted double plays; and you don’t see home plate collisions.

It wasn’t an, “I’m trying to hurt you,” play. But an injury was a byproduct. It was legal, yet borderline. If MLB wants to make it illegal or come up with a way to constrain it, then fine. Until then, it’s acceptable. As long as the people in charge fail to make a concrete announcement and provide a clear-cut mandate to the umpires that certain actions won’t be tolerated, there will be players who are willing to do what Holliday did, injured players, and indignant reactions in its aftermath.

//

Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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

Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

//

Omar’s Players

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

The talk of the Mets in recent weeks has centered around their twin aces Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Santana pitched a no-hitter two weeks ago tomorrow and Dickey just had a team record scoreless innings streak ended in the ninth inning of last night’s 1-hit masterpiece against the Rays.

The Mets, who most observers (including me) had losing over 90 games, have been examined with a new set of questions wondering whether they’re real contenders and if they’re going to be buyers at the trading deadline.

We don’t know yet. They’ve surprised so far and with their plate discipline and opportunistic play. With the aforementioned Santana and Dickey pitching like this, there’s no reason to think they’re going to completely collapse to the depths of their negative expectations.

One thing that’s glossed over amid the eye-opening resilience and positive vibe hovering around the team is that the majority of the good work they’ve done has been because of players that former GM Omar Minaya brought into the organization.

Minaya was called one of the worst GMs in baseball during the waning days of his tenure—an assertion that is based on indistinguishable parameters. It’s ridiculous. He had his strengths and weaknesses as a GM. In today’s game he would have to be in the right circumstances to get another chance as a GM because he’s great when making a big trade or signing a big star, drinking in the accolades at a flashbulb-popping press conference with his big smile and expensive, tailored suit. He’s fine when he’s charming people one-on-one who take his frequent English malaprops as a part of his charm. But when things went wrong he turned from the toast of the town to just plain toast.

As an assistant (now with the Padres) he’s a valuable voice to have around and has always been a sound judge of tools and talent. He has a great rapport with and understanding of young Latin players.

The players on the team now that have helped the Mets to their 34-29 record were almost exclusively acquired under Minaya’s watch.

Santana arrived via trade. Dickey was a veteran signing with a fluky pitch signed as an afterthought—but it was the Mets and Minaya who signed him. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee, Josh Thole and Justin Turner were all brought in by people working under Minaya.

It’s a fact.

In response to the credit I’m giving Minaya, you can expect it to be said that the scouts and developmental people were the ones who handled the young players; that Dickey was blind luck; that if Minaya was still the GM, none of the young players would be with the Mets now because they would’ve been traded for expensive veterans or not given a legitimate chance; that his faults don’t outweigh whatever positives can be mustered. It will brought up that he also signed Jason Bay and botched the firing of Willie Randolph; that he allowed Tony Bernazard to run roughshod over the club and over people; that he doesn’t have the linguistic skills to be a GM in today’s atmosphere of the rock star GM and political spinmaster who has to respond to questions with deftness and ambiguity.

It’s all true.

But I’m of the belief that if you get the blame you also get the credit. By that criteria, Minaya deserves to receive credit for this Mets team because it was put together, mostly, by him and his staff.

//

Hot Stove Bat To The Kneecap

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

To the best of my recollection, the Mets have won several hot stove championships in recent years.

In the winter of 2001-2002, reeling from having been picked to make the playoffs and stumbling to mediocrity in 2001, GM Steve Phillips acted aggressively in acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz.

The brew he concocted was toxic; it neatly paralleled the deteriorating relationship and festering tensions between Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine; the result was a 75-86 record and Valentine’s firing after the season.

They also became the darlings of drastic off-season facelifts in the winter of 2004-2005—Omar Minaya’s first year—by signing the biggest pitching name, Pedro Martinez and the biggest outfield name, Carlos Beltran; and hiring Willie Randolph as the manager.

After briefly flirting with contention, they finished tied for 3rd place with an 83-79 record.

In 2007-2008, coming off a monstrous 2007 collapse, the acquired one of the top three pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana; but the injury to Billy Wagner in August left the club with a bullpen in shambles and they stumbled from the playoff race on the last day of the season.

These are not instances limited to the Mets.

The “hot stove champions” look unbeatable from November to March.

Then they start playing.

If headlines and media/fan approval were championships, the 2011 Phillies-Red Sox World Series would’ve been epic; the 2010 Mariners and their “Amazin’ Exec” GM Jack Zduriencik would be on the way to the Hall of Fame; the 2011 Athletics would’ve provided a fitting conclusion to the Moneyball fantasy as Billy Beane‘s genius coincided with his dramatically licensed and factually inaccurate portrayal in the movie.

The Red Sox collapsed; the Phillies were bounced in the playoffs; the 2010 Mariners lost 100 games and were a embarrassment on and a travesty off the field; and the Athletics are horrible as Beane uses his chameleon-like skills at fostering positive public perception to lay the atrocity off on the lack of a new stadium, others stealing “his” strategies and morphing into the likable and hapless everyman, swallowed up by factors out of his control.

Buy it if you want—if you’re a mindless sheep; if you’re stupid.

Because the Mets haven’t signed Jose Reyes to a new contract immediately upon his filing for free agency the consensus—which appears to be based on faux “sources” and the demands of editors to drum up attention and render web hits—is that Reyes is already out the door.

He might be.

He might not be.

Whether he’s a Met or not in 2012 doesn’t automatically mean the Mets are going to be any better than they’d be without him; nor does it mean the team that signs him will have a stamped ticket to the playoffs.

In spite of what the likes of Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch write, the Mets winning another hot stove title or treading water and perhaps badly hindering the club’s retooling efforts will not repair the issues surrounding the team for 2012.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the more important time for a team’s success or failure is the summer.

Drafting players that will eventually be tradable; gauging the market and the competition; going for a deep strike or holding fire—making intelligent analysis based on circumstances rather than maneuvering for positive coverage and validation of media imbeciles and reactionary fans—are far more important to winning than anything that’s done in the winter.

The 2010 Phillies were staggering at mid-summer, barely over .500 and entertaining offers for Jayson Werth; relentlessly and rightfully hammered for trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners in exchange for Roy Halladay and gazing into the abyss of a lost season, they fixed the hole they themselves created in the rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt; and they were lucky that Shane Victorino got injured and they had no one else to play center field, so they had to keep Werth.

Those Phillies went on a tear to win the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The same Giants who picked up Cody Ross on waivers and signed Pat Burrell after he’d been released. Both players were key components to the Giants championship.

Slightly over three months ago, the Cardinals desperately traded away their one young star-talent, Colby Rasmus, to acquire Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel—without whom they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the World Series.

It’s all hindsight.

If Reyes signs a $150 million contract and pulls his hamstring in May, will the critics be savaging the Mets for letting him leave?

Money aside, does anyone truly believe that GM Sandy Alderson and his staff don’t have a viable backup plan in the event Reyes departs?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be sexy to be sensible.

Continue reading the blatant partisanship from Sherman among others if you want to have a basis for complaint.

But don’t misunderstand what you’re reading as you indulge in the hackery and do not say you weren’t warned.

//

Wayside Mandate

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

What happened to the rule in baseball that minority candidates had to receive interviews for high profile jobs as managers and general managers?

Is it no longer in effect?

Does it receive a waiver when a club decides to hire a “star” executive or field boss or promotes from within using the “next in line” approach?

Why is it that Theo Epstein was essentially rubber-stamped to go to the Cubs with the Cubs not fulfilling the requirement of interviewing a minority?

Or that Ben Cherington was promoted as Red Sox GM without so much as a peep from MLB that they had to talk to other candidates to satisfy the rule?

Initially I felt that the rule was a half-hearted attempt to appear progressive in name only; I didn’t think it would do much good; if a club has a specific person in mind for a job—and that may have race as a part of the subconscious exclusionary process—there’s not much that can be done to change their minds.

But what if a candidate walks in and wows the prospective employer? And what if that candidate’s reputation is boosted by the fact that teams were forced to interview them when, short of the mandate, they might not have done so?

Executives chat regularly; it’s a relatively closed society. They complain about players’ behaviors; their bosses; the media; and other mundane aspects of doing a job that many think is the pinnacle in baseball.

Doesn’t it make sense that if a Demarlo Hale or Bo Porter go in for an interview as manager and doesn’t get it for whatever reason that doing well will boost them for another opportunity?

But baseball has given a pass to clubs like the Cubs who hired Epstein away from the Red Sox; watched silently as Epstein hired Jed Hoyer from the Padres; and may look the other way when he hires his next manager whether it’s Ryne Sandberg (the “Cubs institution” excuse—which can be altered to make light of the Cubs being something of an institution) or Terry Francona (Epstein and Hoyer know and have worked with him before) to replace the fired Mike Quade.

The Padres promoted Josh Byrnes to take over for Hoyer.

No interviews?

Why?

Of course in some situations there is a “token” aspect to interviewing a candidate because of his or her racial profile, but it’s a means to an end.

Ten short years ago, there was one minority GM—Kenny Williams of the White Sox, who is black.

The minority managers from 2001 were Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Jerry Manuel, Tony Perez, Davey Lopes, Felipe Alou, Hal McRae and Lloyd McClendon.

Failed retreads Buddy Bell, Bob Boone and Jeff Torborg were also managing that year.

Today, we have Manny Acta, Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, Fredi Gonzalez and Baker on the job with three openings with the Cardinals, Red Sox and Cubs.

Journeyman manager Jim Riggleman has been mentioned as a possibility for the Cardinals.

Jim Riggleman? The same Riggleman who quit on the Nationals in a self-immolating snit because they didn’t want to exercise his option for 2012? That guy? Teams want to hire him to manage?

I wouldn’t even consider him after what he pulled with the Nationals.

The Athletics hired Bob Melvin as interim manager after firing Bob Geren and gave him the full-time job. No minority interviews.

The Nationals hired Davey Johnson—their interim manager and a supremely qualified candidate with a terrific resume of managerial success, but someone who appeared tired at times in 2011 and may have lost his managerial fastball—no minority interviews.

What about Willie Randolph? Is he toxic? His strategic skills weren’t great when managing the Mets, but he had control of the clubhouse and deserves another chance.

Today Ruben Amaro Jr. and Michael Hill are working GMs; Tony Reagins was just fired by the Angels; and Kim Ng is an Asian-American woman who’s interviewed to be a GM and is currently an executive with Major League Baseball—the same MLB that is tacitly allowing clubs to selectively bypass the the mandatory minority interview rule to hire “names”.

Progress has been limited, but it’s progress nonetheless.

A rule that has helped make positive improvements in this realm is being dispatched out of convenience due to the recognition of those that are currently getting those jobs.

Epstein was going to be the Cubs boss one way or the other, but that doesn’t render the requirement meaningless.

At least it shouldn’t.

//

The Cardinals’ Last Stand

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

Having swept three straight from the Brewers at Miller Park, the Cardinals have kept themselves alive in the NL Central race. They’re still down 7 1/2 games with 25 to play so a comeback would be bordering on the miraculous, but they’re still around—and that was the first step.

This weekend is supremely important for the Cardinals to—at the very least—stay 7 1/2 games behind. The Brewers are in Houston for a 3 game series with the Astros while the Cardinals are going home to play the Reds.

On Monday, the Brewers go to St. Louis for 3 games.

If the Cardinals can cut the deficit another game or two, Monday becomes very, very interesting and important. Let’s say the Cardinals manage to get within 5 games after their home series with the Brewers. The Brewers are then going to Philadelphia to play the Phillies; the Cardinals have the Braves coming to town.

Without providing schedules for each team down the stretch (their opponents are mostly the same), the Cardinals have to make their move now.

It’s hard to see the Brewers stumbling in a 2007 Mets-type way and being caught or passed by the Cardinals. Those Mets were drastically flawed in the starting rotation with Oliver Perez and John Maine both having been coaxed to unexpected 15 win seasons by Rick Peterson and Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez were shells of what they once were; this Brewers club with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf has legitimate starting pitching.

You can also throw the 2008 Mets into that mix. With Johan Santana their starting pitching was better than it was in the previous year, but the bullpen was relying on journeyman Luis Ayala to close after Billy Wagner went down with Tommy John surgery; the Brewers have two legitimate closers in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.

2007 Mets manager Willie Randolph panicked and 2008 manager Jerry Manuel was outgunned; I don’t know how Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke is going to react if his club is pressed by Tony LaRussa‘s Cardinals over the last two weeks.

But the Cardinals crawled back into striking distance with the sweep—similar to the way the Phillies did against the Mets (twice) in the final 5 weeks of the 2007 season.

The last thing the Brewers want to do is let the Cardinals think they have a chance.

That’s what the Cardinals are thinking now.

And if things break a certain way, in seven days time they might have more than a chance. They might have a race; a race the Brewers neither wanted, needed nor expected.

The Brewers have to take care of business by next Thursday or they could have a problem on their hands.

A big one.

//

Deface Of A Franchise

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

David Wright is the Mets most valuable asset on and off the field.

He’s their recognizable star; an upstanding citizen; still a top tier player at a hard-to-fill position; signed long-term to a reasonable contract; a stand-up player and leader in the clubhouse while others have shied from the responsibility.

That’s why the Mets should trade him.

Let’s take a look at the reasons why.

“Da core” is broken.

Don’t think for a second this is akin to Mike Francesa’s tired and self-serving attempt at attention-grabbing after the 2008 season in which he insisted the Mets had to “break up ‘da core”.

There is no longer a core to break up.

The remnants of the title-contending Mets from 2006-2008 are either gone, aging or preparing for departure. Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph were fired; Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo have been released; Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are free agents at the end of the year and will either be traded or allowed to leave; Johan Santana is a forgotten man as he rehabs from shoulder surgery; Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, Billy Wagner and Duaner Sanchez are gone and long since forgotten.

Since the injuries to teammates mounted in 2009, there’s been a sense of lone man on an island surrounding Wright. As the Mets have collapsed on and off the field, Wright has endured; asserted his desire to stay; played hard and through aches and pains; withstood the unfair vitriol from frustrated fans as the sole remaining target for their abuse—and he’s behaved classily and professionally.

There’s no longer a core of anything. This season is degenerating rapidly into a disaster and the Mets most marketable asset is Wright.

They could extract a bounty for him.

With their current weaknesses, financial situation and season spiraling as it is, they could bring in a large haul for Wright.

He’s signed to a reasonable contract through 2013 that pays him $14 million this season; $15 million next season; and a $16 million option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout. He does not have a no-trade clause.

He plays a premium, hard-to-fill position and a change-of-scenery to a more friendly home ballpark and surrounded by better players in a more positive atmosphere would return him to MVP contending status.

Given these factors, a starting point in any trade talk would have to include a blue-chip pitching prospect; a blue-chip infielder who can hit and run; an innings-eating, relatively young starting pitcher; and another young bat with an attribute—speed or power.

Everyone and everything should be on the table.

No team should be excluded from soliciting an offer for Wright and that includes the Phillies, Braves, Marlins and Yankees.

All have prospects to deal; all could put Wright somewhere; all could fit him into their salary structure at least for the short-term.

How would the Phillies—who are going to need a bat—look with Wright at third base bashing in Citizens Bank Park and Placido Polanco moving to second? If and when Chase Utley comes back, they could shift he or Wright to the outfield.

The Yankees and Braves also could send him to the outfield; the Marlins are desperate for a third baseman and if they’re in contention, would they include Matt Dominguez to get Wright? They’ve got the nerve to do it.

The Dodgers, Angels, Athletics (who were suggested as a possible destination for Wright on Bleacher Report a couple of days ago), Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Padres—all are locations that could use Wright and have the goods to get him.

It’s best for both sides.

The new Mets baseball operations crew, led by Sandy Alderson, made their name in objective analysis and an absence of fear. The current club circumstances won’t be affected by dealing Wright. Fans aren’t coming to the ballpark; they’re going to lose 90 games with or without Wright; they have multiple needs and financial issues hindering their flexibility; he—as opposed to Beltran, Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez—isn’t carting a load of baggage or impending free agency to dilute the return in a trade.

In making a smart, aggressive deal, they could be ready to start anew by opening day 2012 with the Wilpon financial morass (hopefully) settled; a load of money off the books; and a stable of young players with fresh legs, unsullied by the residue of past failures.

Wright is 28-years-old and the frustration of losing and drama is wearing on his once-sunny disposition.

He’s tired and you can see it.

Knowing how things are clearly getting worse before they get better and that his compatriot Reyes—who was meant to be the other half of the dual-cornerstones for years of contention—is heading out the door, makes this an obvious call for everyone.

Perception and reality make the time right.

Wright isn’t the type to ask for a trade, but then neither was Roy Halladay.

Halladay stayed in Toronto as long as he could stand it, but finally asked out. It was one of those rare deals that worked for both sides. The Phillies got a star pitcher still in his prime at a financial discount; the Blue Jays acquired an ace starting pitcher and future Cy Young Award candidate in Kyle Drabek.

The Mets aren’t contenders for anything this year aside from a high pick in the 2012 draft—they look terrible; they are terrible. Clinging to the past and hoping that Wright can lead the next wave of young players into viable contention—something that won’t happen until 2013—is a mad shortsightedness in the interests of current perception and is exactly what they’ve tried to get away from with the hiring of Alderson.

Keeping Wright is the equivalent of refurbishing a dilapidated house by holding onto a valuable painting hanging on a crumbling wall.

It’s pointless when the same painting can be dealt or sold for great value.

Rather than patch a defaced and collapsing property, they need to reach the root of the problem. The Mets have to rebuild the foundation entirely.

There’s nothing left for Wright with the Mets.

It’s diminishing returns if they keep him.

They need to start over.

And the best way to do that is to trade David Wright.

Now.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

****

Purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s useful all year long and all me, take it or leave it. No fear; no remorse; no apologies.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.


//

And You Signed Him Why?

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts, Spring Training

Yankees GM Brian Cashman might want to consider going back to saying lots of stuff while saying nothing at all. By that I mean speaking in circles, using corporate terminology to answer questions without really answering them in a way that might come back to haunt him.

This past off-season, Cashman alienated Derek Jeter during their contract negotiations; made the bizarre decision to pursue Carl Pavano for a return engagement that would’ve been something similar to Chevy Chase getting an opportunity to give The Chevy Chase Show another go; and was overruled by ownership in the signing of Rafael Soriano after he’d said he didn’t want the reliever.

One pitcher he did want was Pedro Feliciano.

Feliciano was a longtime Mets reliever who was their lefty specialist and acquired the nickname “Perpetual Pedro” because he was used so often. Beginning in 2006, Feliciano appeared in 64, 78, 86, 88 and 92 games. He didn’t throw that many innings—never more than 64 in one season—but factoring in all the appearances and warming up in games where he didn’t pitch and there’s a basis for Cashman’s lament that Feliciano was “abused”.

In this ESPN Story, Cashman makes his statement; Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen retorts; and Feliciano speaks out regarding the rotator cuff strain that has placed him on the disabled list.

There’s no one who’s obviously “wrong” here, but Cashman appears to be using selective information when discussing the Feliciano injury.

As Warthen said, “[The Yankees] didn’t know that when they signed him? … He volunteered for the baseball every day. He was asked whether he was able to pitch. He said ‘yes’ every day — every day — and wanted to pitch more than we even pitched him.”

Cashman was unaware of the “abuse” that Feliciano had been subjected to? And the excuse for ignoring the “abuse” was that there was a thin market for left-handed specialists and the Yankees needed him? This was why they signed him for 2-years and $8 million?

The suggestion that Feliciano was abused implies that he’s damaged goods and is on borrowed time. Wouldn’t common sense dictate that this is a pitcher who should’ve been offered a 1-year deal or avoided entirely? That maybe the Yankees should’ve looked elsewhere for a lefty specialist?

Cashman’s timing is a bit out-of-whack for this sudden misplaced blame and buyer’s remorse especially since a week ago, this article about Feliciano was published in the NY Times relating his desire to pitch, pitch and pitch some more and that Feliciano himself said that the current injury has nothing to do with workload.

You can craft a bit of a family tree concerning Feliciano and trace it all the way back to the Yankees if you’re looking to assign blame for the situation.

The Mets manager from 2006 to mid-2008 was Willie Randolph who, prior to taking the job as Mets manager, was on Joe Torre‘s staff with the Yankees; Randolph ran his bullpen similarly to the way Torre did. Is Cashman conveniently ignoring the wasteland of overused relief pitchers from Torre’s days as his manager?

Does the name Scott Proctor ring a bell?

Proctor never complained, always took the ball and was blown out by Torre.

Other Yankees relievers like Tanyon Sturtze, Steve Karsay and Tom Gordon were battered by Torre as well.

Where was Cashman with his protectiveness? To shield them from the horrific “abuse”?

How about the fact that the Yankees felt compelled to install the Joba Rules in part to protect Joba Chamberlain from being overused by the reliever-happy Torre; that part of the reason Chamberlain has degenerated into a glorified middle-reliever and failed prospect is due to the dictates, regulations and paranoia for which the Yankees’ GM was the catalyst.

Given Cashman’s up-and-down history with pitchers (and I’m being generous), what position is he in to be blaming others for Feliciano’s injury? And if he was so concerned about it, why did he sign him in the first place?

My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


//