- The bizarro world of the Pittsburgh Pirates:
Leave it to the Pirates to take what should've been a happy time in the bleak landscape that has become the setting for their incompetent, excuse-laden existence and alter it into something negative.
On Saturday night, the Pirates had an exciting and dramatic win in which their top prospect, Pedro Alvarez, hit a towering 3-run homer to win the game off of Rockies closer Huston Street. In another hopeless season in which it will be all but impossible for them to avoid 100 losses; as they've lavished inexplicable contract extensions on both their strategically-challenged manager John Russell and overmatched GM Neal Huntington; and are being run by a lawyer, team president Frank Coonelly, who has no clue how to run a franchise and whose interests lie more in implementation and adherence to league mandated payroll constraints, the Pirates took that one moment in which people were talking about them in a positive light....and shattered it hours later by firing two coaches.
Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho were dismissed on Sunday and replaced by Ray Searage as interim pitching coach and Jeff Banister as interim bench coach. No reason has been given for the changes aside from whispers that there were "loyalty" issues and that the drop in top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln's velocity, poor performance and demotion to the minors coincided with a mechanical tweak made by Kerrigan----Sports Illustrated Story.
There are a few ways to look at this and all are bad for the already hideous image of the Pirates franchise and the people in charge.
If there was a problem with the coaching staff, why was it addressed now? It's August; the team is literally going nowhere as they repeat the familiar story of "rebuilding" without a viable plan in place or the competent people to oversees such a project; if Kerrigan and Varsho were detriments, wouldn't it have made sense to dump them in May? June? Or at sometime when their dismissals may have made a difference if they were having a negative effect on the players?
Kerrigan is known as a competent pitching coach who's no the easiest person in the world to get along with; Varsho moves around a lot as a coach and minor league manager despite a respected reputation for baseball acumen.
So what does this mean and how does it make the Pirates look bad?
If Kerrigan was making mechanical adjustments to such an important and well-compensated prospect as Lincoln, wouldn't it have made sense for said alterations to have been discussed with and agreed to by Russell, who was a defensively-oriented big league catcher, should have a concept of a pitcher's mechanics? Where was Huntington while these changes were being made? Does he have the background to be able to discuss proposed changes with Kerrigan without fear of confronting someone who's his underling?
Or was Kerrigan working alone with delegated authority because of his status as a veteran pitching coach and fired when it doesn't work immediately? From the outside, it appears that they've taken the failures of the pitching staff and fired him based on after the fact results and are blaming him for decisions that should've been discussed and agreed to by Kerrigan, Russell and Huntington.
This is the problem when you have a manager in a hopeless situation and a GM who doesn't have the confidence and/or knowledge to question his "baseball people". He has to know something about the game itself; about scouting; about analytical adjustments; and he has to be able to overrule his employees if he disagrees with what they're doing. Since he's taken over the Pirates, Huntington has done the bidding of Coonelly or flung things at the wall hoping they'd work; many of those moves have made little to no sense.
The struggles of Lincoln is an easy justification to fire the pitching coach; if Kerrigan made these changes, they either had to be agreed to by the bosses or he did them on his own; both instances fall on the shoulders of Huntington and Russell, not Kerrigan.
The Pirates pitching has been horrific and I'm not saying that Kerrigan didn't deserve to be replaced, but to say, "Lincoln wasn't good, you altered his motion and it's your fault" is a simplistic way to allocate blame for what's an oganizational misstep.
As for Varsho, there are coaches who bounce around because they're incompetent and only have a job because they accumulated friends in baseball; and there are coaches who move around because they aren't "yes" men and they assert themselves in ways that are perceived threats to the manager. I see Varsho as the latter. Dick Pole has had that reputation as well. You can read about Johnny Sain in Ball Four by Jim Bouton, who kept going from one team to another because he wasn't afraid to speak his mind and it repeatedly cost him jobs.
If I had to guess as to why Russell wanted Varsho out it was a combination of being threatened by him and that he didn't listen to him. Russell isn't a particularly adept manager and now you can add paranoia to the list of reasons why.
This is all perspective without insider information; I don't know what happened and all the reports have been cryptic as to why this was done now; I may be totally off base and until more is revealed (if more is revealed; if anyone cares enough about the Pirates to dig deeper to see what happened) we won't know the truth; but judging from the way they've run the club since they took over and the circumstances of these firings, it's not hard to judge based on the participants, their actions and baseball history itself.
And that's why they're the Pirates.
- Prince Fielder, huh?
This is interesting and, of course, ill-thought-out nonsense.
It's an interesting thought...in the vein of idiotic, ridiculous and flat out stupid premises that aren't going to happen.
Did Berthiaume look at the reality behind this idea?
Let's you and me do just that.
Prince Fielder is a free agent at the end of the 2011 season.
Prince Fielder is represented by Scott Boras.
Prince Fielder is a weak defensive first baseman.
Other than that, it could work.
The Red Sox don't want Fielder; they want Adrian Gonzalez and they're right in preferring Gonzalez to Fielder. Gonzalez will presumably require the same package to acquire in a trade; he's not represented by Boras and, despite wanting to get paid, will be easier to sign long-term; he's a far better defensive player; is signed for next year for $5.5 million while Fielder is signed for $10.5 million; and Fielder's weight, while not affecting him, isn't something to dismiss as a non-issue especially when he's got a guaranteed $100-plus million coming to him. Fielder is two years younger than Gonzalez.
Put that aside and it makes sense.
So who would you rather have? Is Berthiaume's assertion that Fielder would jazz up the rivalry worth the negatives and that he falls short in comparison to Gonzalez is every single category? Gonzalez is workmanlike and quiet; Fielder is aggressive and out-front. Is this about making the team better or creating controversy?
The Red Sox are not about creating controversy; they're about winning. They're not going after Prince Fielder.
On another note, Berthiaume adds in his piece that he's officially on Twitter @SBerthiaumeESPN.
Let's see how long it takes for him to block me for speaking the truth.
- Viewer Mail 8.9.2010:
Gabriel (Capo) writes RE closers and post-season aces:
Kevin Gregg is horrifying. You're right. He has trouble throwing strikes and gives up too many homers; he's a stopgap, so you don't have to worry about him closing for the Blue Jays when they become legitimate contenders.
Greg Maddux was inconsistent at times in the playoffs----link----but mostly quite good; he had many opportunities in his time with the Braves and wouldn't be intimidated by anything. That said, if you were picking someone from that staff, you'd have to take John Smoltz over Maddux. If we're going back into history, you can't go wrong with Dave Stewart in a big game.
Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE beat writers:
The beat writers on Twitter thing is interesting. There was a dust up yesterday during the Yankee game involving a couple of beat writers who made snide remarks about A-Rod, and the fans got mad and unfollowed them. So the question is, do these guys just "report?" Or is it OK for them to have "opinions?" Personally, while I may disagree with what they say, I kind of enjoy reading what they really think.
I don't get the unfollowing thing. Why unfollow?
It's good for us that we're seeing their veneer of expertise destroyed; but I don't see how they can sit there saying the out-of-line things they do and walk into the clubhouse and put forth an aura of objectivity. We always knew they were probably doing this during games, but never had an outlet to express it publicly. Now that they do, it has to be a hindrance to doing their jobs.
Max Stevens writes RE the Mets:
I could not agree with you more in your take on the Mets. You really nailed it. For a team to look so utterly listless in so many key spots since the break, and then to complain about the release of such an unproductive player, is insulting to me as a Met fan. I think Wright has the stature in the clubhouse to become the kind of leader you describe, but he doesn't strike me as a guy who can be confrontational if necessary. They don't have that type of guy, I don't think. I'm always struck by how much more Gary, Ron, Keith and Bobby O seem to want them to win than the actual players. That shows me something as a fairly rabid follower of the team. It shows me that there's no real clubhouse leader at this point.
I can't help but think back to the days before Omar Minaya's arrival and the Mets were floundering along, doling severance contracts on Al Leiter and John Franco based on loyalty, time-served and their friendships with Jeff Wilpon. It had gotten so that these declining veterans were having their voices heard on personnel decisions and that cannot happen especially as their performances were part of the overall problem that led to 90 loss seasons in 2003-2004.
When Minaya took over, they initially tried to keep Leiter with a contract agreement virtually assured; but after a few days of haggling, it seemed that Minaya prevailed in spending more money on a pitcher who had something left and could help in altering the attitude about the Mets----Pedro Martinez.
Pedro's contribution to the club is arguable; that they paid for 1 1/2 good years out of four is accurate; but it got Leiter out of here when he had nothing left; and Franco was a good soldier who didn't deserve to have a place on the roster anymore. Their presence was a distraction and had more to do with the Mets being nice than with doing what was right for the team. That was when the team started transforming. The niceness has been evident with the clumsy firing of Willie Randolph in 2008.
Being nice doesn't get it done. It's clear now that Jeff Francoeur is not going to be part of the long-term solution for the team and if he starts to cause trouble, I'd simply release him, talent and affability aside.
You may be accurate in your assessment of David Wright. I don't know if he's a "get in their face" guy; some leaders don't function that way. If that's the case, the Mets have to import someone this winter who can do that. As for now, they'll have to deal with everything involved in such a drastic change and the benching of veterans for the long-term good of the club. As a fellow Latin, perhaps it's up to Carlos Beltran to protect the youngsters if any shenanigans start up. It has to be done.
I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz last Tuesday talking about the trade deadline, Ozzie Guillen and the pennant races. Click the link above or go to the site to download it on I-Tunes. Or you can get it directly here.