- No excuses and only one person to blame:
The latest----and possibly worst (so far)----disciplinary incident with B.J. Upton occurred yesterday and threatens every facet of the Rays organization as they're currently structured.
Long known for his self-serving childishness, Upton hustles when he feels like it; has been disciplined repeatedly for his transgressions; and still doesn't appear to get the point that he's not just hurting the team, but he's sullying his reputation beyond all repair.
Yesterday in the Rays 2-1 loss to the Diamondbacks, Upton jogged (lightly) after Rusty Ryal's gapper; Ryal wound up at third base and later scored on Gerardo Parra's homer. In the dugout after the inning, Evan Longoria said something to Upton and Upton exploded, charging at Longoria; the two went nose-to-nose and had to be separated by teammates to prevent a dugout fistfight----ESPN clip.
Even though it would've been a triple one way or the other, no one can defend Upton for the lackadaisical and disinterested way he went after Ryal's ball; nor can they justify the frequency with which Upton's behavior is called into question. Longoria was absolutely 100% right in challenging Upton; and if anyone thinks that it would've been better left to be said inside the clubhouse, I'm betting that this wasn't the first time a teammate and Upton had gotten into a confrontation over his immaturity; it just never got into the media.
It looks like the entire Rays team has had enough.
The easiest thing to do is to blame manager Joe Maddon. I've been open in my skepticism of Maddon's strategic skills and his new age, "cutesy" kindergarten-style of handling players. The hockey jersey road trip was an example of his attempts to have fun with his players as they wore the jerseys on a road trip during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's all nice and sweet and fun and I'd have nothing to do with it. My attitude is that the players are on a business trip, so they're wearing coats and ties and that's it. They don't like it, they can go play somewhere else; or better yet, go home and wear your hockey jersey.
That said, I can't blame Maddon for this.
Upton's behavior wouldn't change one iota whether he was playing for Tony La Russa, Joe Torre or anyone. He's a repeat offender and the time for chalking his transgressions up to immaturity ended during the World Series in 2008 when he didn't hustle on a double play ball. If he's not going to run all out during the World Series, when is he going to go all out?
The combination of factors contributing to Upton's nonsense appear to be the following: the aforementioned immaturity; absence of discipline from the club; that he feels he's underpaid and is looking for revenge for losing in arbitration and that he's yet to receive a long-term contract as teammates Longoria and Carl Crawford did to avoid acrimonious arbitration hearings.
Someone has to get through to Upton that all he's doing is costing himself money if that's his main motivation for playing baseball. Upton was in the big leagues at 19 in 2004 after being the 2nd player taken in the 2002 draft. By 2007, he was a rising star offensively and defensively; he had another excellent year in 2008, but his game has declined markedly making his disciplinary issues more egregious. Before, as long as he was producing, it was easier to let certain things go; but in the past year-and-a-half, Upton has been awful. Comparisons can be made to the cross-state Marlins and the indicents involving Hanley Ramirez, but at the very least, Ramirez has still produced on the field even with his lollygagging; the same can't be said for Upton.
I haven't watched him enough to be able to determine whether it's a decline in skills, a prolonged slump or a byproduct of not caring, but considering the mountain of evidence that it's effort, one can only assume that Upton isn't trying as hard as he should in any aspect of his game.
Because of his affordability (he won't be a free agent until after 2012); abilities; and versatility (he can play the infield as well as center field), someone would gladly take Upton in a trade and try to straighten him out; but the Rays would only get pennies on the dollar or someone else's headache; it's not worth it to trade him now.
The Rays have been diligent in weeding their organization of troublemakers regardless of talent. It can't be lost on any observer that the Rays turnaround from perennial 100-game-losers into pennant winners directly coincided with their decisions to dump Josh Hamilton, Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young----disciplinary problems all.
They're in a box with Upton and it has to be handled.
B.J. Upton is not a kid anymore; he's a big league veteran----albeit a young one at age 25----and it's time for him to grow up. The Rays can do several things: they can bench him; they can trade him; or they can weather the storm hoping the widespread criticism he's receiving spurs something to click in his brain and he realizes that it's not everyone else who's wrong, but the man-child in the mirror. Perhaps then he'll make the conscious decision to knock it off; to play the game correctly; to respect his teammates and his bosses.
Anything's possible, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
- Whither Bobby Valentine?
I broke one of my own rules on by treating the Bobby Valentine to the Marlins talks as if they were fait accompli and it was only a matter of time before being official; before Valentine was back in the dugout where he belongs, wearing a Marlins uniform.
I don't believe a deal is "done" until I see the player/manager/GM/owner standing in front of the team logo, blinking at popping flashbulbs and uttering tiresome clichés. Add in the actors in this Shakespearean saga and there's always the potential for the deal falling apart. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is known for his flightiness; Valentine is, well, Valentine.
I still think the deal is going to get done and Bobby Valentine is going to be the next manager of the Marlins despite what anyone says or the rumors suggesting otherwise. Small obstacles aren't going to derail this union and if this back-and-forth is any indication, it's going to be a typical Valentine/Loria soap opera.
They'll write books about it.
Listen to my appearance with Sal at SportsFan Buzz from a week ago Thursday. Click on the site link or click here. It was in this appearance that I discussed the Rays lack of discipline that could be their undoing. Yes, I'm brilliant in my prescience----most of the time anyway.
Speaking of accurate predictions, my book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and Noble.com. 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.