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?

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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




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2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

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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

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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.

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American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

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American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

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

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

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

Los Angeles Angels

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

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

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

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

Oakland Athletics

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

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

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

Seattle Mariners

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

Jeez.

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

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

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

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

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Kevin Youkilis

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Name: Kevin Youkilis
Tale of the tape: 1B/3B; 33-years-old; bats right; throws right; 6’1”; 220 lbs.
Contract status: $12 million in 2012; $13 million club option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.

Would the Red Sox trade him?

Barring injury to Will Middlebrooks, Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz, they’re going to trade Youkilis somewhere.

What would they want for him?

Whatever they can get.

Perhaps they can move him for a player who’s not performing well with his current club but could be of use to the Red Sox like a Grant Balfour or Ryan Roberts.

Even if they pay the rest of his 2012 salary, they’re not going to get much of a prospect for him.

Which teams would pursue him?

The Orioles have been mentioned in certain circles, but I doubt the Red Sox are going to trade him in the division.

Casey Kotchman has been a disaster with the Indians and they could slot Youkilis in at first base. The AL Central is winnable for them and Youkilis might be a change-of-scenery player who goes on a tear (if he’s healthy) once he’s out of Boston.

The White Sox have been playing Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson at third base and neither one has hit or played particularly good defense.

It would be an admission that they were wr-wr-wr-wrong (think Fonzie from Happy Days), but the Tigers could get Youkilis and put Miguel Cabrera where he belongs—in the DH spot.

Gaby Sanchez has been atrocious for the Marlins but putting Youkilis in that hair-trigger clubhouse is a bad idea.

The Phillies might make one last desperation move on Youkilis to try and save the season before taking offers on Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.

The Pirates are an intriguing option because they’re hovering around contention and could use a veteran with name recognition and send a signal that they’re serious about winning without giving up the farm.

The Cardinals could use insurance for their questionable status at first base as they wait (hope) for Lance Berkman to come back; David Freese has had frequent injuries in his career and Youkilis is insurance for that.

It would be an odd acquisition for the Cubs, but Theo Epstein knows Youkilis and they’re not giving up on 2013 in spite of the rebuild they’re planning. They can try and steal a Wild Card next season while simultaneously stocking the farm system by trading other veterans on their roster.

Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks could use a corner infield bat.

The Athletics would be a weird landing spot but given the bizarre moves made by Billy Beane—clearing out the house of his starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez—maybe he’d like to get his hands on the player he coveted back when Moneyball was believed to be reality. The Greek God of Walks was almost an A when Beane was taking the Red Sox job and Paul DePodesta was going to be the new A’s GM. Youkilis was the compensation for Beane being let out of his A’s contract. But Beane backed out on the Red Sox and Youkilis became a star in Boston.

The A’s need a first baseman and with their young pitching and needs at first and third base, they could trade for Youkilis and renegotiate his 2013 option to sign him for a couple of years. He might be rejuvenated as a fiery leader and dirt-caked, win at all costs type to show the young team how it’s done.

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