Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Chicago Way

  • Critical mass is coming soon:

It's getting messy in Chicago.

On the South Side, the White Sox have been a tremendous disappointment (especially to those self-proclaimed "experts" who picked them to win the World Series, of which I'm one); are in-fighting about issues larger and small, contemplating a series of drastic trades; and haven't meshed due to mistakes made by on and off-field personnel.

Their opposite entity, the Cubs, have an even bigger series of questions to answer from the top of the organization on down and are in a worse mess. With a new ownership; massive and unmovable contracts; the likelihood of the manager halfway out the door; and leaguewide mediocrity the only thing saving them from being hopelessly buried, they're not only going to have to decide on when and whom to sell, but they have to determine precisely who's going to do the selling, the current GM Jim Hendry or someone else?

First, let's look at the White Sox----the team in better shape.

With most manager/GM combos, the rampant controversy between the duo would be untenable; the chasm irreparable; but with GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, it's been consistent and meaningless in the cosmic scheme of things. For years, there have been disagreements that other clubs would not have been able nor willing to withstand, but for Williams and Guillen it was seen as two strong-willed individuals who had a mutual respect arguing, settling and remaining friends.

Now, it's gotten worse. In fact, it's to the point where the men are admitting that their relationship is not the same as it was; their rapport has been shattered. Both insist they'll be able to work together; but with the latest (denied) report that the two nearly came to blows over the club drafting Guillen's son----ESPN Story----it could be reaching the end of the line.

The White Sox are close enough to first place in the AL Central (8.5 games behind the Twins) that tossing the towel so early would be a mistake. Jake Peavy is pitching better and Mark Buehrle's numbers will be back to the normalcy from the back of his baseball card. Their main foibles are on offense.

Williams let Guillen make the decision on whether or not to bring back Jim Thome to be the primary DH before the season and the manager chose to go with a rotating band of DHs among Mark Kotsay; Andruw Jones; and Juan Pierre. It was unfair to expect this group to provide the necessary pop. It was a questionable strategy to start with and has failed horribly.

A young hitter with potential, Tyler Flowers isn't hitting at Triple A either. It's unconscionable in the American League and the fault of the GM if he doesn't get a DH who can deliver offensive punch.

This isn't to imply that Thome would've been the answer to all the ills of the White Sox, but when you're repeatedly inserting Mark Kotsay in as the DH, you're already at a disadvantage before one pitch is thrown. Williams made the mistake of letting Guillen make the call before the season regarding Thome and it's costing them.

This isn't to absolve Williams----for whom I have great respect as a baseball man. It was Williams who traded for Mark Teahen to take over at third base; and Williams who chose to rely on Carlos Quentin staying healthy and hitting close to the way he did in 2008 when he was an MVP candidate. Disasters both. Gordon Beckham needs to be sent to the minors and their offense has been putrid far beyond the black hole at DH.

In a larger sense, the fissures between the manager and his GM either have to be repaired or a change will be necessary. For all the controversy he creates and the dust-ups he's had with everyone, Guillen is an excellent strategic manager; but one has to wonder if both parties would benefit from a change-of-scenery. Guillen might need a new venue; Williams might not want to have the daily headaches that come with such a loose cannon as manager.

The Cubs on the other hand, are a train wreck.

With the massive and unmovable contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano casting a pall over any and all hopes of a full-scale housecleaning, they can't even seriously entertain the notion of starting over again as long as the question of who's going to be running the team is open.

With the way things have spiraled, the new owners----the Ricketts family----have to determine if they're going to let GM Jim Hendry move forward and start over or if they want to bring in someone of their choosing. As it is, manager Lou Piniella's contract is up at the end of the year and it's hard to see him wanting to return to this cesspool.

They have a lot of young talent in the organization----one of whom, Starlin Castro is already up and playing every day; but to begin a complete overhaul starts with the GM and if they're going to let Hendry make the trades of players they can move like Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster, then it makes no sense to hire anyone else after the year.

If anything is to be learned from the way both teams have stumbled, it's that the "all-seeing, all-knowing manager" needs a rein on his desires. I can't help but think back to another Chicago favorite, Buddy Ryan when he was given free rein with the Arizona Cardinals and created a revolving door of disarray with his reactionary style fomenting chaos.

Both Piniella and Guillen need a competent boss to save them from themselves. If there's no circuit-breaker, they're liable to say and do anything and change their minds in a whimsical way that sabotages cohesion and poisons player trust.

The emotionality of the two managers is what got them to their current positions and won them championships; but that can be a negative as they don't think before they act and speak. Understandably, both are frustrated; understandably the front offices are losing patience; but rather than doing anything capricious, it's sometimes better for the health of the organization to make the conscious decision to alter the landscape by cutting out the infection.

With the White Sox, if that means dumping Guillen? So be it.

With the Cubs, if that means tossing the season and hiring a new GM and having Piniella possibly step down? Then that's what should happen.

Diminishing returns are such for a reason; and the trick is knowing when to cut losses. That's the decision both franchises have to make. Soon.

  • Speaking of managerial change...

While discussing the Orioles last night during their game against the Mets, the broadcasters for SNY, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling, voiced their disagreement with the Orioles' decision to interview potential candidates to take over as manager full-time at mid-season. They felt that it would be better to let interim manager Juan Samuel handle the team as they sift through the available names this winter (of which there could be a few more enticing options) and wait.

I disagree.

This season has been hopelessly lost for the Orioles since April. What are they playing for other than the future? As long as the Orioles aren't going the route of a young manager to grow with the team, then hiring the recently interviewed Bobby Valentine now would be a smart decision.

There's a difference between taking a younger manager----or someone who's from their own system, but has never managed in the big leagues like Gary Allenson----and hiring a Valentine-type. The inexperienced manager has to take time to get to know his players and bond with them; decide over the course of a spring training who he wants to play where; which players are part of the solution and part of the problem; and build up a foundation of co-existence.

With Valentine, his resume is part of the package and when you hire him, you know what you're getting. There's no ambiguity as to who's running things on the field. Because of that, it would behoove a club like the Orioles to hire Valentine quickly and get a head start on 2011 by letting him observe the players now and draw conclusions from the trenches.

You can't go wrong when hiring an established star manager like Valentine. He'd turn the Orioles around if given enough time; and the best bet if they're going in that direction is to get him on the field fast so he can hit the ground running.

  • RSBS Podcast:

I was a guest earlier today with my Street Boss, Jeff at Red State Blue State and his crew for their podcast. It was an adventure and should be ready for your listening pleasure in a couple days.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Jerry Reinsdorf loves Ozzie and is incredibly loyal to him. Reinsdorf is like that. Ozzie has always had that going for him. I really don't think Ozzie wants to go anywhere just yet, and I really don't think Kenny wants to fire him. I think the players will bear the full brunt of this shake-up.

Jeff said...

I can't imagine White Sox baseball without Ozzie. I just can't do it. Kenny would be gone before Ozzie and I don't see that happening.