No replacing Yoenis Cespedes, so here’s another idea for the Mets

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

<a rel=

Yoenis Cespedes, set to have surgery on both heels and expected to miss up to 10 months and perhaps more leaves the New York Mets in a predicament of how to replace his production. He has been riddled with injuries since signing his four-year, $110 million contract to remain with the Mets and the team’s fortunes have spiraled in direct proportion with his absences. When he’s played, they’ve been good; when he hasn’t played, they’ve been bad.

The positive aspect to the announcement is the end to the ambiguity. The Mets had functioned with a daily dread that even when he was deemed healthy, he was one step away from another injury that would keep him out for three months.

So, now they know.

Replacing him is a separate matter, especially considering the uncertainty in the front office with the departure of Sandy Alderson, the current tri-head GM of John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, and the club’s unknown strategy and payroll going forward.

There are calls for the Mets to tear down the entire structure and rebuild, but such a position is absurd. Trading the likes of pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Devin Mesoraco and Jerry Blevins is obvious. Players under team control through 2019 – Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores – should be moved if there is a sufficient return, albeit steeper than what they will get for those approaching free agency.

Regarding the idea of trading Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, what sense does that make when there are three different people who are vying to get the top job and no set plan in place?

If the Mets are truly thinking about trading deGrom or Syndergaard, that is a decision that must be made by the new permanent head of baseball operations, whoever that is.

That brings us to how best to move forward if the Mets truly intend on competing in 2019.

Given the structure of the club being built around pitching and the opportunity to get younger, a spin from Alderson-led strategy of slow-footed, feast or famine players who played station to station and did little other than hit occasional home runs, the Mets have an opening to do something that has not been done full tilt since the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s: build a team based on speed and defense with the pitchers to back up that strategy.

The Mets have been notoriously slow in recent years. They have been lacking athleticism, devoid of versatility, and shoddy defensively.

The words “small ball” have been largely extinguished if not outright excommunicated from the game like they’re a toxic disease that only anti-vaccination fanatics fail to see the damage they can do, but with deGrom getting losses or no-decisions in 12 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and surrendered 3 or fewer earned runs, would the Mets not have been better-served to get runners on base in the early innings, push the envelope by stealing bases, bunt them along when appropriate, get a lead and force the other manager’s hand to make desperate moves because they cannot fall behind by one run?

This is contingent on starting pitching – something the Mets have in comparative abundance.

Some have indulged in delusional speculation that with the money the Mets will save via insurance payments for David Wright and now Cespedes, they should go big in this winter’s free agent market by pursuing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. Hypothetically, if the Mets were willing to make that level of expenditure, why would players in demand like Machado or Harper want to join the Mets with the club’s reputation for disarray, dysfunction and injury?

More to the point, the type of players who would fit into the aggressive style of play are available should the club be willing to eschew the glossy signing and go for an actual planned construction with players who can do more than one thing.

Ian Kinsler may be 36 and struggling at the plate in 2018, but he remains a superlative defensive second baseman with speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and hit 20 home runs. He’s a free agent, won’t cost a draft pick, nor ask for a long-term contract.

Billy Hamilton is available and despite his poor OPS, he’s a defensive stalwart in center field who, if turned loose, could easily steal 80 to 100 bases.

With Amed Rosario playing better and more aggressively, Brandon Nimmo’s skill at getting on base, the remaining potential in Michael Conforto, hackers like T.J. Rivera and Jeff McNeil who might not bring the precious walks that sabermetrics advocates pine for, but collect hits, would this type of team have a better chance at competing than the ones the Mets have put on the field in 2017-18?

When the club is slumping offensively and is not hitting home runs, what do they do to score? There’s no stopping speed; there’s no viable defense for the panic that ensues when there’s a runner on base who might steal at any moment and the team is aggressively forcing the action with hitting and running, exhibiting derring-do on the bases and showing fearlessness. In games where they’re not hitting or getting on base, their defense will be a contribution.

Since the Mets have failed in every other attempt to fill in and replace costly players who are hurt; with their annual strategies imploding as if that was their intent, how much worse could they be if they did something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s – and worked – with their most hated rival at the time that twice sabotaged the dominant Mets teams of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

Those Cardinals ran wild on the bases, caught the ball, and won three pennants in six years. This is a preferable strategy to the Mets trading their cost-controlled faces deGrom or Syndergaard for “Random Prospects X, Y and Z” and the team couldn’t be any worse than it is now. They’d certainly be more interesting.

Advertisements

Keep subsidizing the Mets’ lies and ineptitude and the lies and ineptitude will continue

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

snake oil.jpg

For the record, when typing the word “lies”, I initially typed “liens” which, when discussing the New York Mets, could also be accurate.

There’s an unfounded and borderline delusional expectation that one day a light switch will turn from off to on and the Mets will understand that random jumping from one philosophy to another, doing just enough to maintain fan loyalty that tomorrow will be different, and a series of moderate changes are no longer sufficient to build a consistently thriving organization whose location in New York City should yield a commensurate bottom to top structure with competent management and proper funding.

The Mets operate on occasional success and point to it as validation of their haphazard strategy. They won the pennant in 2015 and a Wild Card spot in 2016 – isn’t that enough for you?

They spent big from 2005 to 2010 and almost won the 2006 pennant and would have won the World Series had they reached it. If there was the extra Wild Card in 2007 and 2008 as there is now, the Mets would have made the playoffs in both years.

Aren’t you happy with that?

Would’ve, might’ve, should’ve. There’s a time when these words are applicable, but not as a blueprint.

Winning teams that consistently succeed do not operate that way. There are standards. There’s structure. There’s a real blueprint crafted by professionals who can explain why they’re doing what they’re doing and take steps to bring it to fruition.

There are teams like the Mets who are sort of trying and there are teams that are legitimately trying. They’re not saying they plan to make improvements, they make improvements! Now, it’s possible that those improvements will not result in the desired end of a championship, but it cannot be said that they only tried when it was convenient for them and they were selling fans on a mythical product that only occasionally works with the fans (customers) continuing to buy it out of brand loyalty.

Are the Mets as cruel and dismissive of their fans as the media narrative seeks to purvey?

No.

They did spend money in this past offseason and the idea that the Wilpon family does not want to win is preposterous. They’re not operating in the Jeffrey Loria vacuum of profit above all else with nothing – the law, league rules, good taste – getting in their way. There is, however, an aspect of doing just enough to keep the fans coming back and then knowing – not hoping, knowing – that there will be a large faction of customers who will keep purchasing the product no matter what.

Is there a defense for the Mets with the ongoing drama and rumors regarding a potential Jeurys Familia trade? Until said trade is completed, there’s no fair judgment of it.

Is there a defense for the Yoenis Cespedes drama? The Mets were reluctant to trade for Cespedes because of his mercurial reputation and that he was a pending free agent. The trade won the Mets a pennant. Cespedes wanted to stay with the Mets and the Mets were again reluctant amid concerns that once he was paid, he would settle into a lackadaisical “I’ll play when I feel like it” attitude. They re-signed him to a mutually beneficial contract where he could opt out after one year. In 2016, he was an All-Star, a top-10 finisher in the MVP race, and a Silver Slugger award winner. Then he opted out and the Mets, with pressure from the fans and media, re-signed him to a contract worth $110 million. In the year-and-a-half since then, they’ve gotten 110 games played and the constant fear that he will tweak, pull or tear a muscle or claim to have an injury that he could potentially play through just because he feels like taking some time off and is annoyed about something when no one knows what.

Now that he’s back on the active roster and played one game after missing two months, hitting a home run and being that mid-lineup threat, he says he has calcification on his heels and will need surgery to fix it. The recovery time is eight-to-ten months.

The Mets are being whipped for this information when, with Cespedes, there’s a sense that the medical diagnoses are being revealed as they come out of his mouth and the club was completely unaware of this new sequence of events until they heard it for the first time when Cespedes said it.

Are they at fault? Partially for having a strength and conditioning coach who allows Cespedes to bear squat half a ton; and partially for enabling him; but Cespedes is at fault as well and the Mets’ fears of giving him a long-term contract have largely come true.

Despite the objective truth that most of the big free agents who would have filled Mets holes and signed elsewhere have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst; that the players the Mets signed have inexplicably all been disastrous, the fundamental flaws in the Mets structure are the root of the problem.

The Yankees and Dodgers can absorb mistakes because they have the money to do so and the willingness to admit it and swallow it – something the Mets should have and obviously through financial limitation, conscious choice or both – do not. But there are other issues that the Mets face and are based on borderline incompetence. The Yankees and Dodgers have the farm systems to trade prospects for upgrades or to recall those players and have them contribute. The Mets do not and there’s no excuse for it. Having a healthy organization goes beyond money and the willingness to spend it on upgrades at the major-league level; it means having a system that, at minimum, has players who can play competently and the decision makers have the ability to accurately judge them or sell them to other clubs.

That does not happen in Queens.

The media is complicit in the narrative and it garners the desired reaction from already angry fans who need little prodding to respond like a Pavlovian dog. The Mets’ financial situation has been the catalyst for a vast proportion of the expectation that money above all else will be the determinative factor in how a trade like the one they are struggling to complete with Familia plays out. So, it’s easy to rile up the fans when one of the tri-headed GMs, John Ricco, says the Mets are willing to eat money on contracts to get a better return and then that story is flipped upside down as the Mets are negotiating that trade. Saying that they plan to spin terrible 2017 and 2018 seasons around quickly is one thing, taking the steps to do it is another.

Beat writers, insiders and columnists have been spending their time with ludicrous ideas of a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard trade to the Yankees when even they know it is not going to happen. They seem to get valid information just seconds before it is announced by the club and cannot be trusted any more than “FAKE TWITTER ACCOUNT X PURPORTING TO BE AN INSIDER”.

They too should be ignored.

The fans are the key. The ones who keep buying the product and then complaining about what they bought are making the basic error in how to get a better product: Stop buying it when it’s not good and wait until it is good.

Don’t buy tickets.

Don’t go to games even if the tickets are free.

Don’t buy memorabilia.

Don’t call sports talk radio discussing the team.

Don’t take part in any activity related to the team.

This is simple economics and business. If the entity would like to continue earning a profit and the customers are no longer buying what is being sold, the entity needs to change so the customer will again feel confident enough to spend money on it.

Until that happens, the Mets will keep going as they have with ownership dropping occasional crumbs dropped to loyal fans amid the belief that it will keep them quiet and buying for a few years. And the owners have been right. Once they’re wrong and the fans do not keep swallowing the storyline, subsidizing the lies and ineptitude, things will change. Not before then.

The Mets’ “remarkable achievement” and the clear and unclear future

MLB, Uncategorized

Syndergaard

Not only will the New York Mets not play well enough to get back into some semblance of contention to prevent the organization from a midseason sell-off, but the way they’re losing makes clear that they’re on the way to a 66-96 season. That’s a remarkable achievement for a team that started the season at 11-1 and was 17-9 after 26 games.

By accepting this, it becomes easier to speculate on how the club will move forward. As stubborn and insular as he is, Fred Wilpon is not stupid. When the team is under siege and, more importantly, the fans don’t just stop coming to the games but stop paying attention to the team completely, is when he acts.

In 2004 when the club was stagnant, boring and in disarray, he hired Omar Minaya as the new club GM and opened the checkbook letting Minaya buy players to bring the team back into the public consciousness.

In 2010, one year after the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme decimated the Wilpon family finances, Sandy Alderson was hired to replace Minaya in part because the club needed a steady hand who could withstand the onslaught for basically accepting that the team was not overtly trying to contend and in part because he would keep a tight rein on the club’s depleted coffers.

Now, in 2018, as the Alderson regime has run its course, they may have made a ghastly mistake with manager Mickey Callaway who – full disclosure – I enthusiastically encouraged the club to hire when Joe Girardi’s status was still unknown, and the team is old, slow and indifferent, it’s inevitable that Wilpon will act. Taking a mulligan for the apparent mistake with Callaway, my hope is that he goes for the lightning strike by prying Billy Beane away from the Oakland Athletics to be the new president of baseball operations.

First, however, the short-term decisions will be entrusted to Alderson. Like other executives whose status was in question at the time of the trade deadline, Alderson will follow the lead of Jerry Dipoto when he was the interim GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and Dave Dombrowski shortly before he was dismissed by the Detroit Tigers in 2015 and make deals that are in the best interests of the organization before departing or receding into a consultant’s role.

Since the team is not getting back into contention, the next step is to determine which players to keep and which need to go. Some are easy; some are not.

The biggest fish

Obviously, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will fetch the biggest hauls on the trade market and the Mets have implied that rather than simply saying “no” as they have in the past when other teams call and inquire about them, they will see what those interested parties have to say.

Of course, that does not mean a trade of one or both is likely. The reasons they’re so in demand in a possible trade are the same reasons why the Mets should consider retaining and building around them. DeGrom is under team control for two more seasons after this one; Syndergaard for three.

With the way deGrom is pitching and that he and he alone might make the difference between a team winning the World Series or missing the playoffs entirely is enough of a carrot to entice that team to overpay in terms of a cacophony of blue-chip prospects that is too massive for the Mets to turn down.

Syndergaard is currently out with a finger injury and, as the only one of the Mets’ current starting rotation who has not had Tommy John surgery or is dealing with a tear in the elbow as Seth Lugo is and pitching through, the threat of his elbow giving out is a looming concern. For a pitcher who throws as hard as Syndergaard does and who has missed time in both 2017 and 2018 with a variety of injuries, the clear preference – if the Mets do trade one of them – is to move him. He won’t yield as much as deGrom, but he still brings back a lot.

Immovable objects

Media members and fans who pressured the Mets to retain Yoenis Cespedes cannot lament that choice now. The organization had its concerns that once Cespedes got his money, his motivation would dissipate commensurately. He was mercurial and had injuries to several parts of his body before he got to the Mets, so there could be a combination of factors involved in his current status.

It is pointless and unfair to question how hurt a player truly is. What is unquestioned, however, is that he cannot be counted on to be that key figure in the everyday lineup. He has a full no-trade clause. If he were healthy and productive, there would certainly be teams who would take him off the Mets’ hands for the remaining two-and-a-half years on his contract. Even if it was for a limited return, simply getting that contract off the books allows the Mets to reallocate that cash to help them retool.

This is purely speculative and useless. He’s hurt and is not returning anytime soon. He’s going nowhere.

There were voices who hated the Jay Bruce signing. Those same voices – claiming to be Mets fans – are seemingly taking a bizarre, cannibalistic joy in having been “right”. Bruce has been horrific and was always a limited player, but in the past he could be counted on for consistent power numbers. That has not been the case and it was recently revealed that he is dealing with a hip injury that has been an issue since March. Bruce tacitly refuses to use that as an excuse, but when a player who has posted the annual numbers that Bruce has and does nearly nothing in his return to the Mets, clearly the hip is the main reason for that. No team is taking his contract.

It’s doubtful any club will make a worthwhile offer for Todd Frazier or Anthony Swarzak, so they might as well hang onto them.

There’s no point in discussing Jason Vargas.

Pending free agents

Although Jeurys Familia has had some high-profile blown saves and hiccups in the postseason, he was still very good in the 2015 postseason and the run up to it. He is mostly reliable as a reliever, has that playoff experience and, as a pending free agent, would not complain about being a setup man for the remainder of the season. The Mets will not get a Gleyber Torres as the crosstown Yankees did when they traded their closer, Aroldis Chapman, to the Chicago Cubs in 2016, but if Familia shows he is healthy and effective, they can acquire some useful youngsters for him. 99.9999 percent, he will be traded.

Asdrubal Cabrera is having a big free agent year. His ability to play second base and third base – plus shortstop in a pinch – his big offensive year and that he’s a switch-hitter will make him attractive. They can repeat the type of trade they made in dealing Curtis Granderson and getting a good, raw arm in Jacob Rhame.

Jerry Blevins will be moved and they’ll get a low-level minor leaguer.

Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Devin Mesoraco will remain to fill out the roster for the rest of the season. In Reyes’s case, it will presumably be for a photo-op if David Wright can get back on the field so they can play one last game at third base and shortstop together, whatever that’s worth.

Potentially valuable chips

Should Wilmer Flores be traded, do not expect the same tears of sadness he shed in 2015 when he was almost traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. By now, Flores wants the chance to play regularly and that is not happening with the Mets. If he went to the American League to DH, it would be better for him and the Mets could get a prospect.

It would be easy for the Mets to be hypnotized by Zack Wheeler’s recent run of success amid a fastball that is reaching levels of velocity that it had not since before his Tommy John surgery, but that would be a mistake. Wheeler is injury-prone and inconsistent, capable of being unhittable one day and then not having the faintest idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand the next. He has one year of team control after this one. Another team will likely be similarly hypnotized by Wheeler’s potential and make an offer that the Mets should accept.

Steven Matz is notoriously injury-prone and, although he’s been solid of late and is under team control through 2021, he is a “make a good offer” arm where he’s not on the block and is not as much of a get as deGrom or Syndergaard, but still has value to get two or three good pieces back.

***

Despite Alderson’s wait-and-see attitude, he sees where this is headed. A housecleaning is coming. It will start on the field and, given how badly the front office moves have turned out in recent history, will extend to the executive suite as well. Until then, waiting and hoping for the best in the trades is a preferable alternative to suffering and disappointment in a hopeless cause.

A stark reality about the 2018 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

SyndergaardFor the Mets, as humiliating as Saturday’s 17-6 loss to the Brewers was, it’s more of a symptom than the actual illness. In the aftermath of the debacle, 30 percent of the way into the 2018 season, it’s abundantly clear that the Mets will have a good chance to win when Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard start; a reasonable chance when Steven Matz starts; and an “if this, then that” chance to win when Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas start.

Fortunately for the Mets, the entire National League is about as mediocre as they have shown themselves to be. That is neither something to aspire to nor to be proud of, but once the sausage is on the grill, few are asking how it was made. As the season moves forward and it becomes clearer that they’ll need to make some significant changes to rise to the top of the wide open National League, they must accept that stark reality and act with a sense of urgency and a (painful) plan to move forward if it does not work.

What does that mean, you ask?

It means that the Mets must shun the pretense of “now and the future” and go all-in for 2018. For example, one of the few prospects of value the club has is Peter Alonso. If he is a must-have for a non-contending team that holds a card the Mets need and is open for business – Chris Archer, Kelvin Herrera, Michael Fulmer – then they must go for it now and throw the bomb to win while deGrom and Syndergaard are at or near the top of their games; while they (presumably) have Yoenis Cespedes back healthy(?); while Asdrubal Cabrera and Jeurys Familia are singing for their free agent suppers; and while Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are successfully adapting to their extended innings as relievers.

If it works, great. If it doesn’t, this window the Mets very nearly burst through in 2015 and, to a point, in 2016, is closed and it’s time to move on with the preemptive decisions that competing clubs have made to proceed from popular and talented players for the greater good.

This differs from the reactive and silly demands that the Mets trade deGrom and Syndergaard during the season after they have lost seven out of 10 games in that it’s a viable and doable blueprint.

While fans are pushing for a change in the front office from general manager Sandy Alderson, the truth is that Alderson’s tenure with the club is ending sooner rather than later. The Wilpons will not fire him. He signed a contract extension of undisclosed length after 2017, but the increasing profile of assistant GM John Ricco and the rehiring of former GM Omar Minaya to be a special assistant make clear where this is headed. Once Alderson does depart, Ricco will take command as GM and be the objective leader who can handle the GM-speak, knows the contractual rules, is sabermetrically savvy and will implement the coldblooded maneuvers while Minaya does what he prefers in eyeball assessment and scouting.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is doing what needs to be done if the team goes all-in for 2018 and falls short. What that means is taking their most valuable assets – deGrom, Syndergaard, Cespedes and, to a lesser degree, Matz, and veteran guys they can get something for like Todd Frazier – and clean house to replenish the farm system and replace what they surrendered to go for it in 2018.

With deGrom emerging as a top five starter (or higher) in baseball and being under team control through 2020 and Syndergaard’s abilities and long-term team control through 2021, between them they should yield at least five blue-chip prospects as well as ancillary pieces.

Right there, they restart with long-term assets and money off the books to perhaps buy some players. If that includes trading top prospect Amed Rosario and signing Manny Machado – who’s a couple of months away from turning 26 and will still be in his prime when the Mets are ready to contend again – so be it.

There are no more in-betweens. Choose.

Accepting mediocrity as a matter of circumstance, presenting the excuse that the Mets are in the same boat as everyone else and hoping that everything breaks perfectly as it did in 2015 is over. Mets fans have a few rare seasons they can point to as peaks: 2015, 2006, 2000, 1999, 1984-1986, 1973 and 1969. What built the two World Series winners in 1969 and 1986 was homegrown talent, savvy trades, patience and some extremely good luck. They can jam their arm into the window as it slams shut in 2018 to try one last time to get through it. It will be painful, but one way or the other, they’ll need to get treatment after the fact if it fails. If it succeeds, it was worth the pain. Regardless, how much more agonizing can it be than what they’ll inevitably be forced to deal with if they stand pat, end up with a season result that hinges on the flaws of the rest of the National League, and stand by haplessly if they choose to remain as is?

ALDS Preview and Predictions – Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Oakland Athletics (96-66) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Athletics: Do their “thing”; keep the Tigers in the ballpark; get into the Tigers’ bullpen.

When I say “do their thing,” I mean the A’s game is based on hitting home runs and their pitchers throwing strikes. As long as they’re hitting home runs and their pitchers are throwing strikes, they win. If they don’t hit home runs, they don’t do much of anything else worthwhile.

Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes all had big power years. Other players in their lineup – Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick – hit the ball out of the park as well. But if they don’t hit homers, they won’t score.

The Tigers are a power-laden team that hits a lot of home runs in their own right. With Miguel Cabrera dealing with a spate of injuries, the A’s can’t fall asleep on him because he can still manipulate the pitcher like an aging George Foreman used to with his, “I’m an old man, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gon…” BANG!!! Then they’re watching the lights in the sky from their backs. It’s a similar situation as watching a Cabrera homer.

The Tigers’ bullpen is shaky and if the A’s force their way into it, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit aren’t accustomed to the roles they’ll face as post-season set-up man and closer.

A’s’ boss Billy Beane makes an impassioned self-defense of his methods not working in the playoffs because the playoffs are a “crapshoot.” It’s the exact type of excuse to which Beane would reply arrogantly and obnoxiously if someone else were to give it. If he’s supposed to be finding methods to bend baseball to his will, isn’t it time he finds a way to win in the playoffs?

Keys for the Tigers: Get something from their warhorses; get depth from their starters; hit the ball out of the park; keep the A’s in the park.

Cabrera is injured and Justin Verlander has been shaky. The playoffs tend to send a jolt into veteran players who’ve grown accustomed – and perhaps slightly bored – by the regular season. Adrenaline could help Verlander regain his lost velocity. Max Scherzer has been great this season, but the Tigers’ chances may come down to Verlander.

Leyland doesn’t like having an untrustworthy bullpen and while Benoit has adapted well to being a closer, there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll be able to do the job in the playoffs until he gets an opportunity and does it. It’s best to have the starters go deep into the games and score plenty of runs to not have to worry about it.

The Tigers’ pitchers keep the ball in the park. That has to continue.

What will happen:

Every year, the A’s are the “feel good” story and every year they get bounced in the playoffs. There’s a desperation to have Beane win that ring to somehow shut out any remaining simplistic Chris Russo-style, logically ludicrous argument of, “I don’t wanna hear what a genius he is. Win a championship.” If he wins, where can they go?

The problem is that Beane has never figured out how to use his “card counting” skills in the draft (also a fallacy) to handle the dice in the “crapshoot” that is the playoffs. One would think he’d have done it by now. Maybe he should show up for the playoffs in a mask and declare himself “Billy Bane” while telling the A’s to take control of his genius.

The Tigers are deeper and their defense has been shored up by the acquisition of Jose Iglesias. The shift of Jhonny Peralta to the outfield gives them an even deeper lineup.

Not hitting home runs is the death knell for the A’s and the Tigers aren’t going to give up the homers the A’s are used to hitting. On the mound, the Tigers and A’s are evenly matched top-to-bottom, but the Tigers all-around offense gives them the advantage.

The A’s are trying to validate their backstory, but all they continually do is validate the criticism of it.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Prospects, Stats

Here are my picks for the Rookie of the Year in each league along with who I picked in the preseason.

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF—Los Angeles Angels

Many say Trout should be the MVP over Miguel Cabrera even though Cabrera won the Triple Crown, so how could he not be the Rookie of the Year?

Trout was recalled by the Angels at the end of April in a “save us” move as they started the season at 6-14 and were on the verge of panic. At age 20, he did everything possible to save the season with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, a league leading OPS+ of 171, and Gold Glove defense in center field. He may not win the MVP—in fact, I think he won’t—but he’s Rookie of the Year.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF—Oakland Athletics

Cespedes was a risky signing for the Athletics and many, myself included, wondered what Billy Beane was thinking about. Cespedes started the season looking raw and unschooled; he was also frequently injured. Talent won out, however, and he hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases, with an .861 OPS.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP—Texas Rangers

Darvish shoved it to everyone who dismissed him under the absurd logic that he was from Japan and because Daisuke Matsuzaka was a disaster, that Darvish would be a disaster as well.

Darvish went 16-9, struck out 221 in 191 innings and showed dominating potential.

4. Ryan Cook, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Cook took over as closer when Grant Balfour slumped. Balfour eventually retook the role, but without Cook, the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 73 innings and made the All-Star team.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

His season was cut short by a broken wrist in August, but he entered a toxic atmosphere and replaced a former star player Kevin Youkilis, performing well enough to spark Youkilis’s trade to the White Sox. Middlebrooks hit 15 homers in 286 plate appearances.

***

My preseason pick was Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. He hit 15 homers, but struggled for extended periods.

National League

1. Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

The key for Harper wasn’t whether he could play at the big league level at 19—he probably could’ve held his own at 17—but if he would act like the spoiled, loudmouthed brat he was in the minors and engender vitriol not around the league (that was unavoidable), but in his own clubhouse.

He behaved with an impressive maturity for the most part aside from the usual bits of stupidity like nearly hitting himself in the eye with his bat during a runway tantrum, and did most of his talking on the field. He had 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, and an .817 OPS. His humiliation of Cole Hamels by stealing home after Hamels intentionally hit him was a thing of beauty.

2. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

Very quietly, the 30-year-old Aoki had a solid all-around season. He played very good defense in right field; had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.

3. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

With the injury to Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy falling back from his work in 2011, Miley saved the Diamondbacks from a season under .500. Miley began the season in the bullpen, but made the All-Star team as a starter and won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA and only 37 walks and 14 homers allowed in 194 innings.

4. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

Scott Rolen missed a chunk of the season with his usual injuries and Joey Votto was out with knee surgery, but the Reds didn’t miss a beat on the way to 97 wins and the NL Central title in part because of Frazier’s power and production as a utility player. He hit 19 homers and had an .829 OPS in 465 plate appearances.

5. Lucas Harrell, RHP—Houston Astros

Somehow Harrell managed to finish with an 11-11 record, and a 3.76 ERA for an Astros team that lost 107 games and by August resembled a Double A team with all the gutting trades they made during the season.

***

My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso of the Padres. He had a good season with 39 doubles, 9 homers, and a .741 OPS. He would’ve wound up around 6th or 7th on my list.

//

2012 Award Winners—American League Manager of the Year

Award Winners, Books, Cy Young Award, Games, History, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats

A few weeks ago, I listed my picks for the Cy Young Award in each league. Along with that, I listed who I picked before the season and who I think will actually wind up winning. You can read it here.

Now let’s look at the intense debate for Manager of the Year in the American League.

The two candidates for the award are the Orioles’ Buck Showalter and the Athletics’ Bob Melvin. You can’t go wrong with either. For my purposes, I have to go point-by-point to see if I can find an advantage to tip the argument in the favor of one or the other and come to a conclusion that makes sense.

The Orioles started the season with an $84 million payroll; the Athletics started with a $52 million payroll. Showalter had more proven veteran talent. With Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds, the Orioles’ lineup was going to score runs. Their question marks were in the starting rotation and with bullpen depth. Showalter worked his way around not having one starting pitcher throw 200 innings. It was his deft use of the bullpen that carried the Orioles through.

Melvin was working with a patchwork quilt of pitchers comprised of youth (Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin); journeyman veterans (Bartolo Colon); and the injury prone (Brandon McCarthy). The bullpen was also in flux as he bounced back and forth between Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour as his closer. The lineup was similarly makeshift with unknowns (Yoenis Cespedes); youngsters who’d never gotten a chance (Josh Reddick); and other clubs’ refuse (Brandon Moss, Brandon Inge).

Neither team had any expectations before the season started. Both clubs were in divisions where they were picked—across the board—to finish in or close to last place. The American League East and American League West had powerhouses with massive payrolls, star power and history behind them. But the Orioles and A’s overcame their disadvantages to make the playoffs.

Is there a fair way to break what is essentially a tie in making a pick?

Yes.

The one method I can think of to determine who should win is by looking at the managers, but switching places and determining whether Showalter or Melvin would have been capable of replicating the success they had with their club and mimicked it with the other club.

Could Showalter have done the job that Melvin did with the Athletics?

Could Melvin have done the job that Showalter did with the Orioles?

Showalter has long been a manager who maximizes the talent he has on the roster with his attention to detail, flexibility, and perceived strategic wizardry, but his teams have sometimes wilted under his thumb and tuned him out. Showalter’s unique maneuverings have invited quizzical looks and accurate criticism. One example was the decision not to hold Mark Teixeira on first base in the fifth inning of a scoreless tie in game 5. Teixeira stole second and scored on a Raul Ibanez single. Under no circumstances should Showalter have done that. Teixeira was running well on his injured calf and the risk wasn’t worth the reward to let him take the base. It cost them dearly, and because he’s Showalter, he gets away with it. It was a mistake.

In every one of his managerial stops, Melvin has been an underappreciated manager to develop youngsters and let them have a chance to play without scaring or pressuring them into errors, physical and mental. His strategies are conventional. He lets his players play. The players like playing for him and play hard for him. Every time his teams have underachieved, it hasn’t been Melvin’s fault. That’s not the case with Showalter as the Diamondbacks and Rangers grew stagnant with him managing their teams. On that basis, Melvin’s style would’ve translated better to the Orioles than Showalter’s to the Athletics.

In the end, it comes down to who was faced with the bigger disadvantages to start the season and overcame them; who had more proven talent on his roster; and who held the ship together when the circumstances were bleakest. The Orioles were never under .500 in 2012; the A’s were 9 games under and 13 games out of first place in June and came back to win the division.

Based on these factors, the Manager of the Year is Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics.

In the preseason I picked Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians to win the award.

Before any laughter, it gets worse. The following is 100% true: Prior to making a last-minute change, I had initially written that the Indians were going to be a disappointment after positive preseason hope and hype and that Acta would be fired and replaced by Sandy Alomar, Jr. But I changed my mind and picked the Indians to win the AL Central (mistake number 1), and selected Acta as Manager of the Year (mistake number 2).

I believe that in spite of Melvin’s slightly better case as the recipient, Showalter is going to win.

//

The Cheap Shots Against Mike Francesa Are Unnecessary

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

WFAN in New York announced yesterday that, starting in November, the longtime AM station on 660 here in New York will be simulcast on 101.9 FM—NY Times Story. How much longer they’re going to be broadcasting with their signature name on the station, Mike Francesa, is unknown, but if the cheap shots perpetrated by media “watchers,” columnists, callers, and critics continue, it wouldn’t be a shock for the 58-year-old Francesa to give it a few more years and walk away for an easier, less time-consuming job. If he chose to relax his schedule, one of the multitudes of NFL shows on CBS, Fox, NFL Network, or many others would certainly have him. Presumably, CBS would be pleased to have Francesa discussing golf and NCAA basketball along with football.

With young children at home, the question for Francesa will change from, “What will I do if I don’t have this outlet 5-6 days a week to talk sports,” to, “Do I need this aggravation and to put in all these hours if I have to deal with 24/7 ridicule for minuscule missteps?”

If you’d like to attack Francesa for his pomposity, egomania, occasional laziness, dismissal of those who disagree with him, and overbearing demeanor, then fine. Go nuts. But in another piece in today’s NY Times, when discussing Tigers’ pitcher Al Alburquerque’s strange decision to kiss the baseball before throwing Athletics’ outfielder Yoenis Cespedes out on a comebacker in game 2 of the ALDS, the author mentions Francesa’s confusion as to what a caller was talking about when he referenced Alburquerque a year ago during the Tigers-Yankees ALDS series.

Why?

Did it fit into the narrative or was it just tossed in there in case someone did a search on the Times website for “Mike Francesa”?

Yesterday another caller cryptically and in an unfunny fashion alluded to Francesa’s famous falling asleep episode from last month while WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was on. Francesa made the mistake of first denying it happened, and now when it’s broached, he goes into a long diatribe about his 20+ year career in broadcasting, the awards he’s won, etc. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to make a joke about it. It happened. I didn’t see it as a big deal then and it’s not a big deal now. It’s a bigger story if he or anyone manages to stay awake during a Sweeny Murti appearance.

Say what you want about Francesa, but he worked hard to get where he is. No one handed it to him and, at his age, it’s not easy to sit in a studio alone 6 days a week and talk sports for 5+ hours a day. Also, he has to read commercials, do appearances, and the other aspects of being a sports personality that take time and energy to do and that listeners aren’t aware of or think takes much effort.

During the summer, Francesa is often criticized for the amount of vacation time he takes. As stated before, he has young children. The days of working, working, working have to stop sometime. Part of it is his fault for not taking on a partner to replace Chris Russo. The show would probably be better and he’d have someone to pick up the slack, but that’s his choice. What those who seem determined to drive him off the air have to ask themselves is what they’ll be listening to if Francesa chooses to end this losing battle and go do something that isn’t as taxing. If you’ve listened to what WFAN puts on in his stead over those summer months when he’s off, you realize that the alternatives are not only weak, but they’re boring, skittish, obnoxious, and unlistenable unless you prefer them to the choices of Sean Hannity, bad top-40, dated rock, or shutting the radio off entirely.

Keep pushing Francesa out the door and you’ll learn that not only is his afternoon spot going to be difficult to fill literally, but figuratively as well.

//

Detroit Tigers vs Oakland Athletics—ALDS Preview and Predictions

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, Umpires, World Series

Oakland Athletics (94-68; 1st place, AL West) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74, 1st place, AL Central)

Keys for the Athletics: Get depth from their young starters; maintain their magic; mitigate Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera; don’t be “happy to be here”.

The A’s young starters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin have shown no fear in becoming acclimated to the big leagues and carrying a team that no one expected to be contenders to the playoffs. That said, unless they’re successful in keeping runners off the bases ahead of Fielder and Cabrera and putting themselves in a position to use the multiple lefties in their bullpen late in the game against Fielder, they’re not going to win.

With the veterans Jonny Gomes, Grant Balfour, Coco Crisp, and Seth Smith, it’s not as if this is a purely young club that will be shell-shocked by the post-season. They’ve been freewheeling and feisty all season long in direct contrast to the outwardly calm and patient manager Bob Melvin.

They hit a lot of home runs and they pitch. If they fail to do one or the other against the Tigers, they’re going to lose.

Keys for the Tigers: Win Justin Verlander’s starts; receive contributions from hitters other than Fielder and Cabrera; get runners on base in front of Fielder and Cabrera; hope that Jose Valverde is able to close without incident or Jim Leyland smoking seven cigarettes at once in the runway while Valverde is on the mound.

A team with a pure ace such as Verlander holds a distinct advantage in a short series, but Verlander hasn’t pitched well in past post-seasons. For him to truly validate his place in history, he needs to go further than being a regular season horse and Cy Young Award/MVP winner, he has to come through in October. If Verlander is able to give the A’s pause early in the first game and make them think that the have to win the three games he’s not going to pitch, it could be a blow to the solar plexus for a young team that, for the most part, has not been in this situation before.

Contrary to perception, the Tigers offense is not limited to Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson had a breakout season; Quintin Berry provided a spark and speed; and Delmon Young has a penchant for hitting homers in the playoffs.

Valverde is shaky and gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting himself out of it. It’s devastating to any team when they get a lead to their closer and their closer blows the game, and it happens remarkably often in the playoffs and World Series.

What will happen:

2012 was meant to be a rebuilding year for the A’s, but this season has been about inexplicable (statistically and otherwise) leaps for both the A’s and the Orioles. The A’s rode youngsters Parker, Milone, Ryan Cook, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Griffin, along with veteran journeymen Balfour, Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Gomes to a shocking AL West title.

Can the young pitchers who reveled in the pressure during the regular season continue that trend in the playoffs? Parker is starting the opener against Verlander. Because of the new playoff rules, the team with the inferior record is beginning the playoff series at home. It’s a bizarre set-up but home field is generally overrated in baseball.

The A’s need their young pitchers to maintain their fearlessness against a Tigers’ lineup that houses Fielder and Triple Crown winner Cabrera. But that won’t help them if they don’t account for Jackson, Berry, and Young.

The A’s don’t have a long history against Verlander. Crisp is the only player on their roster with more than 20 plate appearances against him (8 for 22). They have a lineup of bats who like swinging at fastballs, but Verlander is more than just a near-100 mph fastball. He has a feel for pitching and gets better as the game wears on; if the A’s are going to get to him, it has to be early. If it gets to the fifth or sixth inning and Verlander gets his groove, the A’s are in trouble.

Max Scherzer isn’t scheduled to start for the Tigers until a possible game 4 after a shoulder injury put him on the sideline and an ankle injury set him back. I’d be concerned if the Tigers enter game 4 down 2-1 in the series and are relying on a rusty Scherzer.

The bullpens are similar with somewhat shaky closers who’ve lost their jobs at various times in their careers. It wasn’t long ago that Balfour wanted out of Oakland for having the job taken away from him in favor of rookie Cook. Valverde is unreliable at best.

The Tigers can hit for power with the Athletics and have the starting pitching to shut down the A’s offense. The bullpens are even; the starting pitching is an edge for the Tigers with Verlander looming for two games in the series.

The A’s magic ride was contingent on production that couldn’t have been crafted into believable fiction. The experience of the Tigers will show and they have star power that the A’s currently don’t.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR

//

The 2012 Athletics Are A Great Story That Has Nothing To Do With Moneyball

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, 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

Going to Michael Lewis for a quote about the 2012 Oakland Athletics because he wrote Moneyball as the author does in this NY Times article is like going to Stephen King for a quote on time travel and the Kennedy assassination because he wrote a novel about time travel and the Kennedy assassination. Lewis’s book was technically non-fiction and King’s is decidedly fiction, but the “facts” in Lewis’s book were designed to take everything Billy Beane was doing to take advantage of market inefficiencies and magnify them into an infallibility and new template that only a fool wouldn’t follow.

Lewis had an end in mind and crafted his story about the 2002 Athletics and baseball sabermetrics to meet that end. It’s not journalism, it’s creative non-fiction. Beane went along with it, became famous, and very rich. None of that validates the genesis of the puffery.

The intervening years from Moneyball’s publication to today were not kind to Beane or to the story…until 2012. The movie’s success notwithstanding, it was rife with inaccuracies, omissions, and outright fabrications such as:

  • Art Howe’s casual dismissal of Beane’s demands as if it was Howe who was in charge and not Beane
  • The portrayal of Jeremy Brown not as a chunky catcher, but an individual so close to morbidly obese that he needed to visit Richard Simmons, pronto
  • The failure to mention the three pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito
  • That Scott Hatteberg’s playing time was a point of contention and Beane traded Carlos Pena to force Howe’s hand to play Hatteberg—Hatteberg was still learning first base and wasn’t playing defense, but he was in the lineup almost every day as the DH from day one

There are other examples and it wasn’t a mistake. The book was absurd, the movie was exponentially absurd, and there are still people who refuse to look at the facts before replacing the genius hat on Beane’s head as “proof” of the veracity of Lewis’s tale.

This 2012 version of the Athletics is Beane’s rebuild/retool number five (by my count) since 2003. The Moneyball club was blown apart and quickly returned to contention by 2006 when they lost in the ALCS. That team too was ripped to shreds and the A’s traded for youngsters, signed veterans, traded veterans, signed veterans, traded for youngsters and finished far out of the money in the American League from 2007-2011.

Then they cleared out the house again and are now in the playoffs. It has no connection with Moneyball nor the concept of Beane finding undervalued talent. It has to do with the young players succeeding, as the article linked above says, and winning “in a hurry”.

Let’s look at the facts and assertions from the book/movie followed by the truth:

The A’s, under Beane, were “card-counters” in the draft

The only players on this Athletics’ team that were acquired via the draft and have helped the club are Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington, Sean Doolittle (drafted as a first baseman and converted to the mound), Dan Straily, and A.J. Griffin. The A’s drafts since Moneyball have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst, so bad that Grady Fuson—along with Howe, one of the old-school “villains” in Moneyball—was brought back to the organization as special assistant to the GM.

The hidden truth about the draft is that the boss of the organization probably pays attention to the first 8-10 rounds at most. After that, it’s the scouts and cross-checkers who make the decisions and any player taken past the 10th round who becomes a success is a matter of being lucky with late development, a position switch, a quirky pitch, or some other unquantifiable factor. Beane’s “new age” picks like Brown, Steve Stanley, and Ben Fritz, didn’t make it. The conventional selections Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton did make it, were paid normal bonuses of over $1 million, in line with what other players drafted in their slot area received. Brown received $350,000 as the 35th pick in the first round and his signing was contingent on accepting it.

Beane “fleeced” other clubs in trades

In retrospect, he took advantage of the Red Sox desperation to have a “proven” closer, Andrew Bailey, to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. Bailey got hurt and, last night, showed why it wasn’t his injury that ruined the Red Sox season. He’s not particularly good. Josh Reddick has 32 homers—power and inexpensive youthful exuberance the Red Sox could have used in 2012.

The other deals he made last winter? They were of mutual benefit. The A’s were looking to restart their rebuild and slash salary waiting out the decision on whether they’re going to get permission to build a new park in San Jose. They sent their erstwhile ace Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for a large package of young talent with Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, and Jarrod Parker. They also traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for even more young talent including Tommy Milone and Derek Norris. The Diamondbacks got 200 innings and good work (that hasn’t shown up in his 13-12 record) from Cahill and are also-rans; the Nationals got brilliance from Gonzalez and won their division. The A’s slashed payroll and their young players, as the article says, developed rapidly.

Sometimes it works as it did with this series of trades, sometimes it doesn’t as with the failed return on the Hudson trade to the Braves in 2004.

They found undervalued talent

Yes. We know that Moneyball wasn’t strictly about on-base percentage. It was about “undervalued talent” and opportunity due to holes in the market. That argument has come and gone. Was Yoenis Cespedes “undervalued”? He was paid like a free agent and joined the A’s because they offered the most money and the longest contract. He was a supremely gifted risk whose raw skills have helped the A’s greatly and bode well for a bright future. The other signings/trades—Jonny Gomes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, Brandon Moss—were prayerful maneuvers based on what was available for money the A’s could afford. They contributed to this club on and off the field.

Grant Balfour was signed before 2011 because the A’s again thought they were ready to contend and all they needed was to bolster the bullpen. They’d also signed Brian Fuentes to close. Fuentes was an expensive disaster whom they released earlier this year; Balfour was inconsistent, lost his closer’s job, wanted to be traded, regained the job, and is pitching well.

The manager is an irrelevant figurehead

Howe was slandered in Moneyball the book as an incompetent buffoon along for the ride and slaughtered in the movie as an arrogant, insubordinate jerk. What’s ironic is that the manager hired at mid-season 2011, Bob Melvin, is essentially the same personality as Howe!!! An experienced manager who’d had success in his past, Melvin replaced the overmatched Bob Geren, who just so happened to be one of Beane’s closest friends and was fired, according to Beane, not because of poor results, managing and communication skills, but because speculation about his job security had become a distraction.

Melvin and Howe share the common trait of a laid back, easygoing personality that won’t scare young players into making mistakes. Melvin’s calm demeanor and solid skills of handling players and game situations was exactly what the A’s needed and precisely what Moneyball said was meaningless.

The 2012 Athletics are a great story; Moneyball was an interesting story, but they only intersect when Beane’s “genius” from the book and movie melds with this season’s confluence of events and produces another convenient storyline that, in fact, has nothing at all to do with reality.

The A’s are going to the playoffs and might win the division over the Rangers and Angels, two teams that spent a combined $170 million more in player salaries than the A’s did. It’s a terrific life-lesson that it’s not always about money, but it has zero to do with Moneyball and Michael Lewis is an unwanted interloper as the Beane chronicler since he knows nothing about baseball and is a callous opportunist who took advantage of a situation for his own benefit.

//