Rays and Orioles: Early Season Notes

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Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were one of the few teams with a “surplus” of starting pitching. So they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals and signed Roberto Hernandez (AKA Fausto Carmona) as insurance and to vie for a role in the rotation. Jeff Niemann’s season-ending shoulder surgery put a damper on the depth and they’ve gotten off to a rocky start as Hernandez has pitched poorly and Jeremy Hellickson—who I’m not a fan of anyway—has been inconsistent.

Key parts of the lineup haven’t hit. Some, like Yunel Escobar and Matthew Joyce, will. Others like James Loney and Ryan Roberts might or might not. In the end, they’ll score enough runs to win…if the pitching is good enough or David Price and Matt Moore carry the load for the shakiness of the back of the rotation.

This should’ve been expected of a team like the Rays who run their club making trades and signings with an eye on saving money, spending where they can, and hoping to hit at the roulette wheel with the likes of Hernandez and Loney. Amid all the hits such as Fernando Rodney and Casey Kotchman, there are also misses like Pat Burrell and Matt Bush. Some have been costlier than others.

There are calls to bring up Wil Myers to boost the offense and, in some manner, justify having traded Shields and Davis to get him. Inside the Rays clubhouse there are expressions of pained understanding as to why the Rays traded Shields and Davis, with the unsaid wishing that they were still there to help in the now.

The Rays front office isn’t concerned about what the players think. No winning organization is. They may listen to a point in order to placate the stars, but in the end, it’s the organization’s decision. Few sports figures exert as much influence over their club as Tom Brady does with the New England Patriots and even he had his knuckles rapped by club owner Bob Kraft over Brady’s overt displeasure at Wes Welker being allowed to leave. “I don’t answer to Tom Brady,” Kraft said.

Nor should he.

Bending to pressure, inside and out, would betray the entire reason the Rays made the trade in the first place; in fact it would contradict the entire foundation of the rebuilding of the Rays into a team that wins in spite of payroll constraints. Myers was acquired because he’s a top-tier prospect, cheap and will have value for them when they can no longer afford some of the players in their lineup who are expected to be significant offensive contributors now, like Joyce. If and when Myers is recalled, it won’t be until it’s financially and practically beneficial to the Rays, not before.

In general, veteran players will provide what’s expected of them and what they’ve historically done barring injuries or an age-related decline in skills. This is why there’s no need to be concerned about Escobar and Joyce and there is need to be concerned about Hernandez and Loney.

This is the situation the Rays face on an annual basis. Maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.

Baltimore Orioles

To GM Dan Duquette’s credit, he didn’t make the mistake the Mariners did under Bill Bavasi and equate an overachieving 2007 season of 88-74 into an idea of “all we need is one more pitcher” and trade a large chunk of his system to the Orioles—including Adam Jones and Chris Tillman—for Erik Bedard.

(Interestingly, Mariners current GM Jack Zduriencik did pretty much the same thing in trading for Cliff Lee after a similarly overachieving season that was based more on luck than reality in 2009. Yet he was referred to as a “genius” for doing what Bavasi did. He’s not being called a genius anymore, but that’s another story.)

The Orioles of 2012, unlike the Mariners of 2007, made the playoffs. They bounced the Rangers and shook the Yankees before losing in the ALDS in 5 games. The Orioles, having won, are no longer viewed as a last resort location for old and declining players to get a last paycheck. The temptation to use the new street cred among marketable players willing to join the Orioles must have been great, as must have been the offers for the likes of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Duquette did a tweak here and a tweak there, but mostly stood pat in spite of the Orioles having reason to say they were going for it in 2013, even though that would’ve been a mistake.

They’re around .500 now and the “experts” in the media had them taking a dramatic fallback to, at best, .500 for the season.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Currently relying on the same template as last season with a deep bullpen, a power-hitting lineup and pedestrian starting pitching, the situation looks the same as in 2012, but is actually subtly different.

If his elbow stiffness subsides and he’s pitching in the minors soon, the Orioles can expect Bundy to help them in the second half of the season; Machado will be with the team all year. If they’re hovering around .500 and still in contention in a parity-laden AL East at mid-season, they’ll be very dangerous down the stretch.

I don’t see people referring to Duquette with starstruck, agenda-driven awe as they did with Zduriencik, but Duquette’s the one with the past success, courage of his convictions, and is a better executive.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade Part III—Desperation or Progression for the Blue Jays?

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Since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as Blue Jays’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos has done many things that garnered him credit for running his club the “right” way by combining old-school scouting with new age stats; for showing aggressiveness when the time called for it; and for being fearless. The Blue Jays, in that time, were rebuilding and reloading; clearing salaries and planning for the “future.” They had John Farrell, a stat-based manager with a sterling reputation; they’d accumulated prospects that were just about ready to take the next step forward and, if everything went well, would contend in 2012.

But again, as is the possibility with a club that doesn’t spend a lot of money and is relying on the development of young players, the 2012 Blue Jays were ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, fell from 81-81 to 73-89 and sat by impotently as the Orioles came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After so many years of building for the “future,” when was that “future” going to come? For so long, the Blue Jays have been frozen in place or moving backwards, shoving the rock up the hill only to see it come tumbling back down again, many times right on top of them.

With a bolt of lightning, the Marlins’ latest fire sale led to the Blue Jays acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and prospects. After that, with the decision to try and win now essentially made, they surrendered two more top prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, to the Mets to get reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Dickey to a contract extension worth $25 million to complete the trade.

This isn’t a spending spree for its own sake nor is it a drastic philosophical deviation from one strategy to the other, but it’s more of a realization that the time to go for it is now. The Yankees and Red Sox are shells of what they were. The Orioles overachieved in 2012. The Rays are still fighting payroll constraints. With the extra Wild Card, the door is wide open for a team like the Blue Jays to move up.

Farrell was the equivalent of a replaceable teen idol—he was there because he fit the suit, the fans screamed when they saw him, and he couldn’t actually do any of the things a manager needs to do well. His results were disastrous in every respect and there’s a palpable relief that he’s gone. He’s been replaced by the former Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons who was horribly underrated for his strategic acumen and is a sound, unexpected hiring.

Having seen firsthand the risks of trading a star pitcher Roy Halladay and, in the subsequent series of deals, winding up with Kyle Drabek (having just undergone his second Tommy John surgery), Anthony Gose, and d’Arnaud, they are rightfully dubious of prospects and their projections.

They didn’t alter strategies on the fly and make panicky maneuvers for Anthopoulos to try and save his job. Nor did they show desperation and haphazardly try to take advantage of the weakness in their division. They’ve made a natural progression based on opportunity and availability.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ winter refurbishing and a Marlins-type spending spree designed to validate a beautiful new ballpark with an owner, Jeffrey Loria, elusively hovering in the dark ready to pull the plug and backtrack on promises and commitments.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ flurry of acquisitions and the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, reportedly on orders of ownership, in order to take some of the spotlight away from their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays being decisive and the Dodgers new, endless amounts of cash netting Zack Greinke as a free agent and providing them the ability to absorb the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.

What these clubs and the Blue Jays have done are totally independent of each other.

The simple narrative is that the Blue Jays have chosen to spend with the big boys, but the reality is that they built up the farm system to give themselves the assets to acquire players when they were ready to win. Did they expect it to happen this quickly? Probably not, but Athopoulos was allowed to take on those contracts—many of which are heavily backloaded—and for the first time in 20 years, they have a viable chance to win. The waters parted to open a path and they took it. It’s not a change in the blueprint, but adapting to the situation. Now they’re ready to contend.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their second straight World Series win in 1993. They have a rabid and loyal fanbase and now they now have the goods to make another run—with similar star-level talent to their title-winning teams—two decades later. If they pull it off, the only people who are going to care about the money they spent are the same constituency whose metrics aren’t about winning, but about doing it cheaper than the other guy to prove how smart they are. That faction has become increasingly marginalized into what it truly is: a small, fringe group that shouts loudly into the wind. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, the money they spent or the prospects they surrendered will be irrelevant because, in the end, it’s about winning. Now the Blue Jays have the goods to do it not just on paper and with best case scenarios, but with superior on-field talent.

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Stages of Grief: A Guide to Mental Health for the Yankees Fan

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I’m here to help Yankees fans.

They may not believe that; they may think I’m being sarcastic or wallowing in the new reality of their predicament, but I’m giving them a truth that few are either able or willing to dispense. Be it from willful blindness, partisanship, salesmanship, or bottom line stupidity, the fact is that there’s a profound absence of honesty regarding where the Yankees go from here with an ancient core of stars, unheard of payroll constraints, failure to develop prospects, and a dimming brand.

I’m the therapist with impartial and non-judgmental analysis of how to reconcile the glorious past with the dark future.

Let’s begin.

The Stages of Grief

Stage 1: Denial and isolation

The belief that because the Yankees have made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, that the success rate will continue regardless of personnel and competition is delusional. It can be argued, I suppose, that the injuries suffered by the remaining members of the “core four” Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte were circumstantial and had nothing to do with the advanced ages of all three, but injuries become more frequent and harder to recover from as an athlete ages especially today without the aid of extra little helpers such as pills and shots that have been banned by MLB. Jeter and Rivera both had significant injuries to their lower bodies and required surgery. Pettitte had a fractured fibula due to a batted ball.

Alex Rodriguez has reached the point that if he were a horse, he’d be euthanized. CC Sabathia battled elbow problems all season and also required surgery. Mark Teixeira pulled a calf muscle.

In athlete years, these players are not just heading downhill—they’re plummeting downhill. We’ve only seen A-Rod’s performance decline significantly, but expecting these players to still carry the load with backup troops such as Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson who have been, at best, inconsistent is denying the inevitable.

There have been repeated references to GM Brian Cashman and his stealth “ninja” moves as if he’s a latter day assassin or spy. Except Cashman’s “ninja” move from 2012 included one brilliant and obvious deal for Hiroki Kuroda; one in which his Shuriken (or throwing star) left his hand and wound up being impaled in Michael Pineda’s shoulder. He made other lucky deals for Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Ichiro Suzuki.

Cashman, when asked if it was possible that Eduardo Nunez would play third base to replace A-Rod, he did his Cashman “thing” by giving the obvious answer, “No,” and following it up with an exercise in hardheadedness when, instead of saying the truth of “Nunez has a stone glove and is scatterarmed,” he clung to his “Joba Chamberlain is a starter”-type blindness and said, “I’ve looked at (Nunez) as a shortstop.”

This isn’t denial. It’s an arrogance of little-man syndrome and from working for the “I’m never wrong,” George Steinbrenner for so long that if he backs down on anything, it’s a perceived sign of weakness. He may have looked at Nunez as a shortstop like he looked at Chamberlain as a starter, but clearly he didn’t see.

The “poor us” lament is inviting the eye-rolling and laughter from other organizations that for years have suffered through the Yankees superiority complex permeating their entire being through the media and fans. Nobody wants to hear it and they’re certainly not getting any condolence calls.

Recommendation: Stop crying. The team’s old and falling apart.

Stage 2: Anger

Blame is everywhere. From the Steinbrenners for choosing to limit the payroll for 2014 to $189 million and preventing the team from doing what they did when the acquired A-Rod in the first place—piling on; to Cashman for his failed trades and inability to develop viable prospects to replace the aging stars; to field staff, trainers, and doctors; to the players themselves for daring to age like normal humans, there’s a movement to find someone to toss overboard as a means of sacrifice to end the “bad luck” that is, really, life itself reverberating back on the team that has had so many moments of serendipity since its acquisition of Babe Ruth.

Recommendation: Understand that you’re entitled to nothing and there’s no one to be mad at. It was because of fan demand that there was never a serious plan for the future regardless of reaction from the outside (and inside) forces wanting stars at every position and results now! There will be no results now!!! This is what it is. And what it is ain’t good.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Had the Mets not agreed to a contract extension for David Wright, how long before the desperate Yankees fans would push the club to make a trade for the Mets’ star? Of if the Marlins hadn’t traded Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays, would there be advocates to trade for Reyes and move Jeter to third base? How about Chase Headley? Or Evan Longoria? Or Miguel Cabrera? Or someone, anyone who would have a semblance of star power that the Yankees must have simply because they’re the Yankees?

There are already fans clamoring for Josh Hamilton as there were those a year ago pushing for Albert Pujols to replace Teixeira; or demanding the acquisition of Zack Greinke and/or Cole Hamels at the trading deadline last season because Sabathia was missing a couple of starts with his elbow trouble.

There’s no deal to be made. The Yankees have so many needs and so few prospects remaining—with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances both having flamed out; Jesus Montero gone for Pineda—that they have very little they can afford to give up and not much after that that other teams want. You’ll get someone else’s junk/bad contract for what the Yankees have to trade.

They were said to be looking at Yunel Escobar, which is something I’d desperately love to see because Escobar has forced two teams, the Braves and Blue Jays, to get rid of him and all his talent in large part because he acts like an entitled, immature brat with no baseball or common sense. Joe Girardi would put him in a headlock and drag him down the clubhouse steps by late April.

Kevin Youkilis? Something else I’d love to see, but I cannot imagine Cashman—even in his most idiotic, “Let’s bring Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano back because I’m just that obstinate,” moments of woodheadedness going there.

Recommendation: Forget the stars. They can’t get them. They’ll re-sign Chavez and probably a roll of the dice type player coming off an injury like Mark DeRosa; a journeyman like Greg Dobbs, or (now this would be funny), Cody Ransom!!

Stage 4: Depression

Once it sinks in that there’s no Steinbrennerean January explosion of a maneuver specifically timed to take the headlines away from the Super Bowl; that they don’t have the ability to do anything significant to get better than what they are now, the fans will look at the rest of the AL East with the young Rays; the drastically improved Blue Jays; the Red Sox in a similar predicament with the Yankees, albeit with more money to spend; and the Orioles no longer a running gag and punching bag, and realize that the odds of a championship run are nearly non-existent; a playoff run is pretty much a best-case scenario, and finishing at or under .500 a legitimate possibility.

There will be the epitome of brainless fan who equates the Yankees with an unassailable monument that must be a World Series contender and calls a Jeter/Rivera injury a “tragedy” and compares the walk back to the subway after the games in which their totems were injured to a “funeral procession.” That fan will think that there’s a conspiracy against the Yankees. The rest will just get depressed, overeat and drink.

Recommendation: Head to Cheeburger Cheeburger and gorge; then go to a bar and start drinkin’.

Stage 5: Acceptance

For a vast majority, this won’t occur until September when the season is long-since shot. Yes, in January/February there will be concern, but hope; yes, in March/April/May there will be the past to look back upon as a lifeline; by June/July when the contending teams that are buying available reinforcements for a playoff run and the Yankees are conspicuously on the sidelines or—dare I say it?—selling will the horror come to life.

Then they’ll start the process all over again expecting there to be a 2008-2009-type reaction to a disappointing season by spending a ton of money to fill the holes. Except they don’t have any money to spend due to the $189 million limit for 2014. They can backload deals, but they also have to sign Robinson Cano and replace Granderson and perhaps Rivera and Pettitte. In addition, teams are no longer leaving their players available to the big market clubs. If you think the Yankees will turn around and trade for Andrew McCutchen, well, forget it because he’s signed and committed to Pittsburgh. The Yankees will, by then, be more likely to scour the bargain bin that will get them Daniel McCutchen instead of Andrew.

Maybe some fans will be fooled.

Recommendation: It’s acceptance. So accept it. The Yankees are old, can’t spend a ton of money, and are in trouble. A lot of it.

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The Marlins: Promises, Lies and Complaints

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The Marlins name should be changed to the Merlins given how quickly and completely they made their entire 2012 roster disappear. In the aftermath of the trade (still pending approval) that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects, Giancarlo Stanton said the following on Twitter:

Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple

Stanton’s understandable reaction turned viral and has been analyzed, dissected, and repeated as an entity unto itself. He’s said nothing since.

Now Reyes and Buehrle are saying that the Marlins broke a verbal promise that they wouldn’t be part of a housecleaning as has happened in the past.

Do they have a right to complain, or is this a combination of self-importance, naiveté, blissful “don’t ask/don’t tell” ignorance, and after-the-fact allegations?

Stanton’s tweet was a reaction and nothing more. As a player entering his fourth year in the big leagues, he has zero recourse. He can ask to be traded and the Marlins can say no. He can express his unhappiness—as he did—and the fans and media can use it as Exhibit A as to what the Marlins players think, but under full team control, Stanton has no options. In fact, the Marlins might sign Stanton to a long-term contract as a conciliatory gesture to placate MLB and their few fans by putting forth the impression of “trying”. Of course that doesn’t mean Stanton won’t be traded once he starts making big money, but it’s slightly more palatable to Stanton and everyone else than Stanton’s visceral response and the Marlins saying, “Yeah? So?”

Big money and contracts are the keys to the silly laments made by Reyes and Buehrle. Did they really—really?!?—believe Jeffrey Loria and David Samson when they promised that they wouldn’t trade them if they signed with the Marlins? You can say anything you want about Loria, Samson and the manner in which they’ve used technicalities and gray areas to behave as baseball robber barons and get a new ballpark; convince players to sign with them under the pretense that this time it would be different; that they’re in it for the long-term; but don’t be surprised when they’re exposed as having said what they needed to say to get the girl in bed, promised to call the next day, and never did.

If there were clear indicators as to what the Marlins planned to do, it was: A) that they made these promises, yet refused to put the language into the contracts to guarantee they stuck to it; B) that they backloaded the contracts to the degree that they did.

Reyes’s contract is as follows: 2012: $10 million; 2013: $10 million; 2014: $16 million; 2015-2017: $22 million; 2018: $22 million option with $4 million buyout.

Buehrle’s is similar: 2012: $6 million; 2013: $11 million; 2014: $18 million; 2015: $19 million.

Huge escalations of salaries, no no-trade clause, and the Marlins history place the onus squarely on the players for believing the “guarantee” for which there were no legal means to make sure it was adhered to. If there was this guarantee that they wouldn’t be traded, why couldn’t it be written into the contract? Here’s why: the Marlins had it in mind that they were going to do this at some point. It might not have been this quickly, but there was always that overwhelming likelihood. The Marlins policy of not giving out no-trade clauses is an excuse, not a reason. Players with multiple options and the ability to tell the interested clubs that the no-trade clause will be in the contract or else they’re not signing get the no-trade clause. Both Reyes and Buehrle knew or should have known precisely what they were signing up for. They got their guaranteed money, but invited the risk that the Marlins could turn around and trade them to a place like Toronto where they had no interest in going. It was a gamble against the house and they lost. The promise isn’t the relevant factor. That the players were stupid enough to believe it is.

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

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YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

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

All they need now is a manager.

Here’s the trade breakdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink

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Unwed to a particular strategy as his predecessor was, when Alex Anthopoulos took over as Blue Jays’ GM replacing J.P. Ricciardi, he exhibited a freshness that invigorated the franchise. Ricciardi did a better job than he’s given credit for, but a series of poor drafts and feuds with players from his team and others as well as the consistently mediocre, “almost there” results, led to his ouster. Anthopoulos took the controls, executed a series of well-regarded trades getting quality prospects Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud for Roy Halladay; as well as acquiring Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and was rightfully judged as a solid choice and up and coming executive who could be trusted.

The Blue Jays looked to be a team on the rise with plenty of young talent and a forward thinking GM who knew the numbers, but also trusted his old-school baseball people with flexibility of trying speed in lieu of power and on base percentage. But the on-field results are still mediocre-to-bad and now there’s a rising scrutiny on Anthopoulos. His great moves such as getting Morrow and finding a taker for Vernon Wells‘s atrocious contract have been mitigated by his poor moves such as trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar were two players who had worn out their welcomes in their prior stops, but were talented enough to make it worthwhile to get them. Escobar is still a player the front office wants to strangle because of his brain dead behavior and Rasmus has been the same disappointment with the Blue Jays he was with the Cardinals; in fact, he’s been worse.

Now the strange decision to sign career utility player Maicer Izturis to a 3-year, $10 million contract while trading a better player Mike Aviles to the Indians for a scatterarmed reliever (the Blue Jays have plenty of those) Esmil Rogers calls into greater question what the plan is. In 2012, the entire pitching staff was decimated by injuries and the strategy Anthopoulos has used to construct his bullpen with journeymen such as Kevin Gregg, Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and Sergio Santos has been a failure. His hand-picked manager, John Farrell, was roundly criticized for game-handling skills that were bordering on the inept and a profound lack of fundamentals that cost the club numerous games.

This kitchen sink strategy is reminiscent of a sous chef getting the head chef job, having many plans and innovative ideas, then overdoing it making things worse than they were before. Anthopoulos is trying a lot of different tactics, but it doesn’t hide the bottom line that his choice as manager was traded away only because the Red Sox desperately wanted him and was in serious jeopardy of being fired if they hadn’t; that the Blue Jays have consistently been labeled a team to watch, but sat by haplessly as the team that finally overtook the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East was a different kind of bird, the Orioles, with a roster that was widely expected to lose 95 games in 2012.

The Blue Jays have yet to hire a manager to replace Farrell. The trade was completed on October 21st. How long does it take to find a new manager? The pedestrian names who struggled elsewhere such as Don Wakamatsu and Manny Acta have been bandied about. How many managers does Anthopoulos get to hire and fire? How many tries at getting the recipe right will he get before the scrutiny falls squarely on him?

Getting Brett Lawrie and Morrow; dumping Wells’s onerous contract; and the perception of knowing what he’s doing have carried him this far. Much of what’s gone wrong with the Blue Jays hasn’t been the fault of Anthopoulos, but there comes a time when there has to be a legitimate improvement on the field before the question, “What’s the problem here?” is asked. That time is coming and if the Blue Jays don’t get better quick, it will be asked of Anthopoulos and right now, given the ponderous managerial search, it doesn’t appear as though he has an answer that will placate the angry masses.

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The Yunel Escobar “Slur”

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Perhaps this was a joke that went awry. Since players no longer use a tube of black gunk as eye black and it’s now a clean stick-on, a few teammates could’ve taken Yunel Escobar’s supply of eye black stickers, wrote the offensive terms on them in an ink that doesn’t activate until it reaches a certain temperature—presumably from sweat—and watched as hilarity ensued.

Except it wasn’t hilarity to those who saw it or had their attention drawn to it by the media.

If Escobar did this himself, then it’s piling onto the problems of the multi-talented Cuban since he came onto the scene with the Braves and repeatedly angered Bobby Cox and his teammates with his pouting and brainless play that led to the Braves trading such a gifted athlete to the Blue Jays in the first place.

Is this that big of a deal? It’s offensive, but the controversy from 2011 when Braves’ pitching coach Roger McDowell openly mocked fans with homosexual allusions in coarse terms with children nearby was exponentially worse than clubhouse humor that was meant to be a joke among teammates and turned into a huge mess. In the confines of the clubhouse, where teasing about sexual orientation and playacting in such a way is a regular occurrence, it’s not a big deal at all.

What those who are taking such great offense to this are missing is that baseball players are baseball players and sports clubhouses are sports clubhouses. Because there’s greater scrutiny, closer inspection and analysis of what happens on the field, and a larger number of outlets to bring stories to the our collective attention, it doesn’t alter the man’s world that is big time sports. The world is no longer insular; women aren’t relegated to being secretaries and receptionists; players are making their views on society more known and whether it’s due to religion or the macho sensibility that is prevalent among Latin players, this is going on publicly and privately.

Are there gay athletes in every sport from baseball to football to European soccer to hockey? Of course. Do they laugh along with the joking while putting up a front for appearances and to possibly keep their jobs? Absolutely. Is there anything that can be done about it? No.

That Escobar is a Latin player isn’t to be ignored. It was the same term as what was written on Escobar’s eye black—maricón which means “faggot” in Spanish—that was the genesis of one of boxing’s most storied and tragic events when Emile Griffith beat Bennie Paret to death in what could only be described as a visceral rage that isn’t present even in the most hotly contested fight. Paret, at the weigh-in prior to the bout, had called Griffith a maricón. It’s about as big an insult as can be tossed at a Latin. There’s a large amount of one-upmanship and perception that still remains in big time sports. When the Marlins signed Jose Reyes and told Hanley Ramirez that he was moving to third base to accommodate the new acquisition, it wasn’t simply that Ramirez’s position of shortstop was being usurped, but the idea that his territory was being threatened. Whether it was good of bad for the team was secondary to issues that have more to do with a mentality and culture than anything else.

Despite only two of these incidents being known to the masses in recent history, it’s not indicative of an isolated instance. There are higher-educated and self-described “enlightened” people running around professional sports teams than there were in the past. As recently as 15 years ago, baseball executives in top posts were all male and were almost all former players, legacy cases, or men who worked their way up in one form or another. More diversity doesn’t imply greater enlightenment. There will still be people who think women shouldn’t be involved with the men making baseball decisions; there will still be people who allow their own personal feelings to interfere with whom they hire as on-field staff.

The media is acting indignantly at Escobar because they’re supposed to act indignant. Certain new age segments are turning ashen, shocked that such a thing could exist and be accepted in this day and age. These are entities that are either ordered to write about a situation that’s become known and aren’t surprised and those who don’t have the faintest clue about what’s customary inside a big league clubhouse.

MLB is investigating the Escobar incident because they don’t want to alienate a large segment of the population. It’s a business and uttering slurs against any bloc is bad for business. But considering what inside baseball people know of what’s normal in the sanctity of a clubhouse, I’m sure there are many who are shrugging and saying, “It’s just a dumb baseball player or a joke that went wrong.”

Escobar will be punished because MLB has no choice in the matter, but this type of thing is reality that wound up in the news. It’s as monolithic as the farm system, advance scouting, and players complaining about their contracts. One punishment for show is not going to make it stop.

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Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—American League

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Two examples of trades that made a significant difference in their team’s fortunes—and were under-the-radar, shrugged at, or ignored at the time—were when the Tigers traded for Doyle Alexander in August of 1987 and the Cardinals traded for Cesar Cedeno in 1985.

The veteran Alexander had experience in pennant races and was expected to bolster the Tigers’ rotation. Instead he pitched masterfully with a 9-0 record, a 1.53 ERA and, if you’re looking for numbers to prove how valuable he was, a 4.3 WAR. You can look at what the Tigers traded for him and say it was a mistake since they traded Michigan native, lifelong Tigers’ fan and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to get him. But to be fair, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who’d struggled in his time with the Tigers in the minors. In the moment, Alexander was the difference between the 1987 Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Had they won the World Series, I’m sure the Tigers would’ve said it was worth it even without 20 years of Smoltz. And there’s no guarantee that Smoltz would’ve been for the Tigers the pitcher he was with the Braves. We don’t know.

The veteran Cedeno, entering the closing phase of a career that should’ve been far better than it was given his talent, was traded to the Cardinals as a veteran bat off the bench in exchange for a minor leaguer who never made it and Cedeno posted a .434/.463/.750 slash line with 6 homers in 82 plate appearances. I was at the John TudorDwight Gooden classic pitcher’s duel where Gooden pitched 9 scoreless innings and Tudor 10. Cedeno homered off of Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th to win the game. (That was also the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record.)

There’s no telling how leaving a team playing out the string and joining a contender will wake up a veteran player and spur him to make a major contribution. It could be a starter, a reliever, a position player or a bench player, judgment comes in retrospect.

Let’s take a look at some American League players who are presumably available and could be to their new clubs what Alexander and Cedeno were for theirs.

Their National League counterparts will be posted later.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

He’ll get through waivers and loves the pressure of the post-season. Beckett would undoubtedly feel liberated by leaving Boston. The Red Sox would love to be rid of him on and off the field and the fans would also welcome his departure regardless of what they get for him—probably nothing more than salary relief. He’s got $31.5 million coming to him for 2013-2014 and is a 10 and 5 player; the Red Sox would have to pick up some of the freight to get rid of him. He’d okay a trade and it would be worth it to fans around the world to take up a collection to pay him off just to see how badly he’d unleash on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox on the way out the door.

Kelly Johnson, 2B—Toronto Blue Jays

Talk surrounding the Blue Jays has centered around them trading shortstop Yunel Escobar to install young Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, but with Escobar under team control through 2015, the Blue Jays might be better-served to trade the pending free agent Johnson and let Hechevarria play second base. Johnson has power, walks and is solid enough defensively at second base.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and no one is going to pay whatever he’s owed for the remainder of this season and the $2.75 million buyout. He’s also back in his office—the disabled list—with a back injury retroactive to August 6th. Someone would take him for nothing if the Indians pay his contract. He’d be a lefty bat with power and walks off the bench if he’s able to play. He’ll get traded at the end of the month.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

Frenchy has been energized by changing addresses before. When he was let out of his Braves prison in 2009, he went on a tear for the Mets and, for a brief while, looked like he’d fulfill his potential away from the pressures and poor handling of him by the Braves. When the Mets traded him to the Rangers, he helped them with pop and his usual excellent defense. A team trading for him would be taking him on for 2013 at $6.75 million. Don’t be surprised to see him back in Texas with the Rangers. If he’d been in right field as a defensive replacement in game 6 of the World Series last year, the Rangers are world champions right now.

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August Waivers Rodeo—American League

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

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

Mark Teixeira, 1B—New York Yankees

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

Alex Rodriguez, 3B—New York Yankees

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

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

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

Carl Crawford, LF—Boston Red Sox

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

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

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

Brandon Lyon, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He’s owed $5.5 million for 2012.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

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

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

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

Alexei Ramirez, SS—Chicago White Sox

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

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

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

Casey Kotchman, 1B—Cleveland Indians

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

Joe Mauer, C—Minnesota Twins

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

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

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

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

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

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP—Kansas City Royals

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

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

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

Bruce Chen, LHP—Kansas City Royals

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

Roy Oswalt, RHP—Texas Rangers

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

Michael Young, INF/DH—Texas Rangers

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

Coco Crisp, OF—Oakland Athletics

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

Vernon Wells, OF—Los Angeles Angels

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

Dan Haren, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

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

Ervin Santana, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

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

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—Seattle Mariners

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

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—American League

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

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

Tampa Bay Rays

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

Wade Davis, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Boston Red Sox

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

He’ll end up with the Mets.

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

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

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

Toronto Blue Jays

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

Kansas City Royals

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland Athletics

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

Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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