Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Lightning 9.19.2010

You have to give Joe Torre credit for knowing which way the wind's about to blow.

Despite the pain that he and the Yankees undoubtedly felt when they had their bitter parting, I said at the time that Torre played his hand perfectly. He got out of a situation that had become unwinnable; he got everyone to feel sorry for him; the Yankees got hammered in the media for the way they treated the leader of their championship teams; he immediately got another job in a venue large enough for his ego and managing a team good enough to compete for a championship; and he made a lot of money.

It was a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of Torre's ego when he led the Dodgers to the playoffs in 2008 (with Yankees nemesis Manny Ramirez carrying his team) while his former team struggled to get used to the new manager Joe Girardi and missed the playoffs entirely. For all the suggestions of Torre's "class", he must have had a private chuckle with Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre, Don Mattingly and any other former Yankee coach who was dispatched or passed over in the Bronx.

In retrospect and once the wounds healed (at least until the publication of The Yankee Years), it was best for all involved. The unbearable expectations that were dumped on the manager had made any season that didn't result in a World Series win into a failure; Torre was well on his way to having his life shortened by the stress; the Yankees wanted to have a manager they could pay less and who'd follow front office edicts without using his charm and resume to subtly twist circumstances in his favor; and the Dodgers got three years of Torre running their ship and restoring order to a chaotic, factional clubhouse.

Now, Torre has announced that he's stepping down as Dodgers manager at the end of the season. In handing the Dodgers job off to Mattingly, Torre was ever-cautious with his words. Rarely if ever saying or doing anything that isn't calculated and with an end in mind, Torre was clear in saying he wanted to stay in baseball in some capacity. Some have suggested that to be a consulting role with the Dodgers; others that he'll head back into broadcasting; and Torre himself said the magic words leaving himself wiggle-room to see what develops after the season----he hasn't ruled out managing elsewhere.

Presumably, Torre would like to go out with one more shot at a championship----they all do. With the amount of money he's accumulated in the past 15 years of managing any job offer to manage will have to be perfect for him to accept it, but there are jobs like that open or possibly open. I discussed the Torre landing spots on September 9th----The Torre Story----the Cubs, Cardinals, Mets, Marlins and Braves all have their own unique pluses for a man like Torre.

Automatically we can pretty much eliminate the Braves and Marlins----the Braves are hiring Fredi Gonzalez (Gonzalez turned down an interview with the Cubs this week); the Marlins aren't going to pay Torre and in fact are interested in one of Torre's former coaches Tony Pena, who would be a good choice.

The Mets? It's going to be a young team with a new GM and they're said to want a manager with "energy". That means someone who's going to flip the food table and bring fans in with his name. That's not Torre. Plus Torre's wife wouldn't want to traipse back to New York and walk into that boiling cauldron again; it would take a few days and Torre would see some of the writers he'd grown to detest and flash back to one of the reasons he left in the first place. The Mets could either contend or end up at or around .500; not what Torre will have in mind as a going away gift and not worth the aggravation.

The Cubs? They just got rid of Lou Piniella; Piniella didn't work as expected; they're also in flux with a lot of young talent and some big money, annoying players with whom Torre would not want to butt heads (Carlos Zambrano); the Cubs are hiring someone from the Cubs family----Ryne Sandberg or even Girardi. Mike Quade has acquitted himself well in his time as the manager and might get some serious consideration.

Then you have the Cardinals.

Torre's departure from the Cardinals always seemed to leave a bitter taste in his mouth. His teams during his first tenure were pretty good; moderate contenders, but never had enough talent to make a legitimate run. He was fired in 1995 after an ownership change and never expected to get another managing shot until the Yankees came calling. He was a star player in St. Louis and it's a pleasant place to manage; he'd return as the conquering hero.

Tony La Russa has leveraged his excellence into an awful lot of power in St. Louis; the veterans are comfortable with him and it doesn't hurt that Albert Pujols has only played for La Russa in his big league career. Every year it's a question as to whether La Russa will return. La Russa has played his part similar to Torre in saying the right things to the (paraphrased) tune of, "I'll be back if I'm wanted and I can still reach the players". Along with La Russa comes the best pitching coach in baseball, Dave Duncan and this accords La Russa even more power.

But the rift between the camps has grown wide in the past couple of years. Owner Bill DeWitt had a stat guy, Jeff Luhnow get into his ear about how to use statistical analysis in building a team within a budget. The Cardinals have eschewed the philosophies of Duncan in developing the pitchers and they also irritated the pitching coach---and by proxy, La Russa----with their treatment of Duncan's son Chris when they dumped him last year.

La Russa won the power struggle as the Cardinals traded the few prospects they had in 2009 to acquire Mark De Rosa and Matt Holliday; then they spent $120 million to keep Holliday. But things are not settled. Duncan's genius resurrected the career of Kyle Lohse and the team shelled out $41 million to keep him after 2008 and he's been nothing short of atrocious. The team has stumbled horribly this season, fallen out of contention for the division and Wild Card, and La Russa has feuded openly with one of the Cardinals top prospects, Colby Rasmus. This will be the fourth year after the 2006 World Series win where the Cardinals have fallen short.

It doesn't feel right in St. Louis anymore. As I said in the earlier piece on Torre, he'd be a big enough name to placate the veteran players (specifically Pujols), the fans and the media; plus they'd be free of La Russa.

It's in the wind that the Cardinals front office and manager Tony La Russa may have had enough of one another. This is my own speculation based on nothing more than intuition, but I sense a divorce coming and it might get messy. The 2010 season is not ending well for the Cardinals and changes may be on the horizon.

If the Cardinals came calling, just to see if Torre would be interested before they re-upped with La Russa, what would he say? Would La Russa feel a similar relief if he left and went elsewhere, to the Mariners perhaps? Change isn't always a bad thing, as painful as it seems when it's happening.

Reading between the lines of Torre's statements in the announcement, I get the idea he wants out of Los Angeles due more to the McCourts' divorce than that he'd truly like to step down.

I'll say it now. I think Joe Torre is going to manage next year; and if he does it's a really good chance he's going to be managing the Cardinals.

As for the Dodgers, there has been talk of a mistaken hire in Mattingly. Mattingly's never managed and I've often said that experience in the minor leagues or elsewhere is one of the unassailable pre-requisites on my list before hiring a manager. Even with that, the Dodgers are going to still be in turmoil this winter.

The team----whether it's owned by the McCourts or sold, will be pretty much as is with a few subtractions of veterans. Let's say that the McCourts decide to sell the team (and I can't see how that decision will be agreed upon by the warring spouses early enough for them to sign or trade for glossy names), it's not going to be finalized until next spring at the earliest; and that's if they decide to sell in the next two months.

The team is going to pare down payroll and go with what they have. There's enough talent to compete, but the expectations on Mattingly will be low; the players will have such respect for Mattingly as a person and for his career that they'll feel like they're letting him down if they don't play hard; and he's very well-liked around baseball. If he has a veteran bench coach to help him, I don't see why he can't learn on the fly and do well enough to make wrong those that consider him to be a disaster-in-waiting.

You can call it a questionable hire, but a "bad" hire? No. I don't think Don Mattingly is a bad hire.

  • Cost certainty vs questionable performance:

Steve Phillips was attacked by the public at large early in the year when he suggested that it was a good idea to trade Stephen Strasburg for Roy Oswalt.

Remember that?

I happen to like Phillips as a broadcaster----he generally makes sense and when he says something I disagree with, at least he has a reason to back it up.*

*And for the record, that's all I ask. Even from the stat zombies. Have a reason that makes sense; don't tell me that Jorge Posada should've batted righty against a righty pitcher because of the numbers; make sense, don't spew garbage without knowing what you're talking about. People seem to be under the impression that I start yelling if someone disagrees with me; that I'm a raving lunatic----and I'm not.

That's exactly what certain stat zombies/old school advocates do----they feel threatened and can't back up their beliefs because they either lack the knowledge, confidence or both to stand up for themselves and express their position. Ridiculing, calling names and running away is not the way to represent your cause.

Phillips's tenure as Mets GM has been unfairly castigated. He made some bad deals, but he made some good ones as well. Overall, the organization was in pretty good shape during most of his tenure, at least until 2002-2003.

At the time I said I wouldn't trade Strasburg. Nor would Phillips. But the idea to acquire a veteran for a contending team wasn't so ridiculous that Phillips should've been attacked as vehemently as he was. Without getting into the ancillary factors of the Strasburg monster, was it so crazy? And, in hindsight, with Oswalt putting on a show for the Phillies and Strasburg needing Tommy John surgery and being out until at least late next season, if Strasburg had been pitching for a team in a pennant race, of course you'd rather have Oswalt.

This brings up the dueling concepts of cost certainty and questionable performance.

If you look at, for example, the Yankees with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, yes they've got these two young pitchers under their control and inexpensive in comparison to veteran free agent/trade possibilities, but they're being babied to the point of ruination; they're not developing anything other than a fear to get hurt; Hughes has been shaky of late and Chamberlain's been up-and-down all year with his long-term role still undetermined. So you have to wonder whether it's worth it to replicate the Yankees or to do what the Phillies have done in the past year-and-a-half as they've acquired Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, essentially gutted their farm system of most of the near-big league ready prospects and are rolling into the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

With a veteran, you have to pay the veteran and I still believe that the Phillies are going to be paying a declining Halladay (and a host of other players) a lot of money for severely compromised performance due to age and wear; but they're winning now and they don't have to sit and wonder what Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ are going to be----that's the other guy's problem; nor do they have to worry about signing Cliff Lee.

Of course, the Nationals weren't contenders, so it would've been deranged to deal Strasburg. They did look into Oswalt early in the season when they were playing respectably and that's where this whole controversy started. But is it so insane now to think that perhaps a Strasburg might've been of more value as a trade chip than he is now as a cultural phenomenon who's going to be rehabbing for a year? Then you add in the money the Nationals guaranteed Strasburg just to sign his name and the debate grows more heated and less cut and dried.

You never know what's going to happen. It would take someone with a courage that we may have yet to see in a baseball executive to do such a thing as trade a prospect who's elicited such lust as a Strasburg, but it might be in the best interests of a franchise in the long term and trade the prospect before what happened happens----before the player gets hurt and no one knows if he's ever going to be the same again.

  • Viewer Mail 9.19.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Derek Jeter controversy:

Jeter used the same adjective you did: laughable. I still can't figure out why people got so worked up about that incident, except that they expected Jeter to be as pure as the driven snow (or whatever that expression is). He's a ballplayer for God's sake.

He's taken part in the ruse to make himself a lot of money. I think part of it is that he's a good guy, but he's not the guy who's supposed to admit to the umpire that he wasn't hit with the ball to exhibit good sportsmanship; and if he did that, no one would follow him as a leader.

I think of George Foreman in this vein. Those who knew him when he was at his heights in the 1970s said he was a terrifying human being----ill-tempered and unpredictable; then he had his religious conversion and returned to the ring. He was affable and grew into a perceived "nice guy"; he's made hundreds of millions of dollars with his products, performance and personality; but there have been instances where the old George Foreman popped out when he grew angry enough. This led to the idea that he was simply crafting another persona; playing a role; doing what it is boxers do----hustle.

The thought that the innate street thug that Foreman was for so long could be exorcised that easily is denying reality. Is Jeter playing a role? Is he something other than what he appears to be in public? It's hard to say because we don't know; but it's easy to say that holding him up to that kind of standard is only going to make it easier for him to fall since no one could be that which people expect from Jeter.

His bewilderment is justified.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE Jeter:

I went to sleep without Jeter even being a blip on the radar. From the time I woke up the next morning to the time I went to sleep, Jeter was all the talk. It's not an issue people! I can't even offer an opinion. I can't believe the things we concern ourselves with most of the time. EVEN if that would have been ARod, it's still a non issue and I don't need reasons to get on AROD; I like to do that. (Hey Michael Kay...can you hear me now?) ~ I want anyone who spent substantial time discussing the Jeter HBP publicly flogged in Times Square for all to watch, point and laugh at.

The thing that makes me shake my head is the parents asking what they're supposed to tell their children when asked, "Mommy, why did Derek Jeter cheat?"

Jeter would never do it, but maybe he should do a Charles Barkley-style commercial in which he declares that he's not a role model.

NapLajoieonSteroids writes RE Jeter:

Because of his image, the sports media took advantage of a slow news day and generated a story where there was none.

Taking idols down a peg is an American tradition; and it might not be a Tiger Woods (or OJ Simpson) scandal but because Jeter showed a little image dissonance, the media was all too glad to get the torches.

Besides, it gave the (visual) media an excuse to call for more video replay, and that is like their national past time- as stupid as that is; they must envision somehow making money off their assiduous replay campaign.

I can understand why a frustrated media member would go after a Tiger Woods if they knew what he was up to away from the course and were frequent victims of his arrogance and bullying, but Jeter----even if there are hypocrisies in the real Jeter in comparison to the "Derek Jeter" creation (and there's no doubt there are; there have to be)----has never been anything but respectful while doing everything he can to win.

He subtly influences those floating in his atmosphere without getting soaked with blood when something needs to be handled. His fingerprints are nowhere near the scene when the job is done, but it's known that he was a main reason that Chad Curtis was dumped and I'm totally convinced that if things had continued to spiral in early 2009 that he would've quietly gone to Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners and said it simply wasn't going to work with Girardi.

Part of this may be that it's an easy story to write. People don't think about the process that goes into writing an article or posting or talking about a subject on talk radio, but many times it's a manipulation to drum up attention. It's not hard to spot an agenda if you look hard enough and a passionate argument----even if it's wrong----has a place; it seems to be an easy way to get a piece done without having to work all that hard to say "Derek Jeter is a cheater" even when he's not; even when it's taken out of context.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Thursday talking about the stretch run. Go to Sal's site to download it on I-Tunes or click it directly here.

Also, Sal interviewed Len Berman about his new book. And check out SportsFan Buzz on Facebook.

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.


She-Fan said...

I wouldn't rule out Torre as the Mets next manager. What could be more enticing to come back to NY with a chance to be a winner there again? Plus, he still has a house in Westchester, his foundation is based in NY, etc etc.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

I agree, Torre will be managing next year. I don't think there's any doubt the McCourts and the unpredictable future of the Dodgers made Torre want to bail-out. He's been complaining all year actually, for anyone who wanted to listen. It wouldn't be like Torre would be going back to work for the Buschs' again so in a way Torre and a St. Lou reunion could be a clean slate for them both. I'm just not so sure St. Lou is ready to jettison LaRussa yet, unless he himself wants out. St. Lou, if they're anything, they're stable. And stable franchises excel at negotiating through squabbles, differences, times of drama and straining opinions. Stable clubs understand human nature and understand everyone doesn't agree all the time in long term relationships. That's my only case for LaRussa staying put.

Torre back to the Mets? He would have been perfect for the 2006 team. I feel this Met team with the direction they should be going in, is not the right place for Torre to be. I'd be silly to criticize Torre but I do not feel The Mets and Torre are a match today.

I am at odds with the name Tim Teufel, but he's probably the right guy for the job. He's not my first choice but I have to be honest with the situation and think he's probably the right choice.

Where does Torre land? Chicago Cubs seem logical as you pointed out. How do you feel about Nolan Ryan seeing a chance to upgrade, bouncing Washington for Torre? Marlins? Are they really out of the question? It wouldn't surprise me at all.

Capo out.

Jeff said...

The talk in the 'Lou is that maybe it's time for TLR to go. I can't believe that's actually happening with sincerity. It's a bit sad.