Saturday, July 31, 2010

For The Condemned And The Saved

  • Your creepy trade deadline special----my way:

The trade deadline is 4:00 PM Eastern Standard and teams are scouring, wheeling, dealing and pleading. I'm not speculating on what might happen; go to the supposed "insiders" for that; but I'm perfectly willing to analyze what has happened or is officially unofficial.

Let's take a look.

The Yankees get Austin Kearns from the Indians and are going to get Lance Berkman from the Astros.

I'm not sure I understand the Kearns acquisition as anything more than "he's available and I'll take him". He's an okay player; isn't making any money; has some pop in his bat; is having a solid season; can play all three outfield positions; and they only gave up a player to be named later which is presumably not much of a prospect. He's not someone who is going to hurt the club, but it's a "meh, whatever" move. The Yankees have had luck with obscure names for whom the initial reaction was a shrug, but they've arrived and contributed. Why not?

With Berkman, they're surrendering very little----RHP Mark Melancon and INF Jimmy Paredes----to get a power, switch-hitting bat who's inexpensive and is only a rental. He's had an off year for him (.245 batting average; 13 homers); but he's still got an on base percentage of .372 and the smell of the pennant race, a chance at a ring and upcoming free agency will spur a renaissance.

The Yankees hole at DH wouldn't have hurt them too terribly moving forward, but again, he was available; the Yankees can afford him; the risk is non-existent; and he'll hit. Plus getting Berkman keeps him away from the Rays and White Sox (to whom Berkman rejected a trade earlier in the day).

This won't preclude the Yankees from doing something else like getting a starting pitcher or a reliever.

The Indians are willing to sell anything and everything. They signed Kearns to a minor league contract, he replenished his career after a rotten year with the Nationals in 2009 and they got something for him; the Indians have been pretty smart in getting prospects for veterans, so one would assume the PTBNL has some quality----a power fastball for example----that could warrant use down the line.

The Astros are clearing out the house of the last vestiges of their run of contention from 5-15 years ago. They're paying parts of the contracts for both Roy Oswalt and Berkman and put both loyal soldiers in great situations to try and win. They're starting over. In his brief big league trials, Melancon has exhibited that he has no idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand, but he's been very good in the minors and has a strikeout fastball. Paredes is a 21-year-old infielder in A ball who has speed. The Astros are collecting players with speed.

Time will tell with the Astros haul from these deals. We've seen clubs try to replenish their teams with unheralded deals and be criticized and others have been celebrated for their brilliance; both assessments have turned out completely wrong.

The Red Sox were raked for trading Jeff the Astros....for Larry Andersen in 1990, but Bagwell was a slap-hitting, right-handed batting third baseman and they had a couple of third base prospects then that were rated higher than Bagwell. Who knew he'd develop into the power threat he became? And it's questionable as to the *legality* of the way he did it if you catch my drift.

In retrospect, it was a bad trade for the Red Sox and a great trade for the Astros.

The "genius" Billy Beane traded Tim Hudson to the Braves and was lauded for the deal in which he received Dan Meyer, Charles Thomas and Juan Cruz----none of whom did anything at all for the Athletics.

Many times it's about luck; coaching; opportunity; and *other* means; or all of the above.

Immediate reaction is meaningless and arbitrary.

The White Sox acquire RHP Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks for RHP Daniel Hudson and LHP David Holmberg.

My admiration for White Sox GM Kenny Williams has never had as much to do with his substantial baseball acumen and intelligence as it has with his sheer fearlessness and lack of concern about what the "experts" say.

The James Bond villain of the baseball world again defied conventional logic by eschewing the acquisition of the bat the White Sox are believed to need and acquired the well-traveled, but talented Jackson. In exchange for Jackson, Williams surrendered one of his top prospects in righty Daniel Hudson and lefty David Holmberg.

Holmberg is 19 and has been getting rocked in A ball. Hudson is 23 and pitched well in the minors, but poorly in two of his three big league starts this season. Jackson has struggled as well, but he was pitching for a terrible team. There was talk that Jackson was only stopping over with the White Sox as Williams was going to try to spin him off for Adam Dunn or another bat. The Nationals were said to want Jackson----we'll see, but if the White Sox keep Jackson, it won't be a bad thing. He's a good pitcher and is gutty and mean.

Williams is a sharp judge of his personnel and acts quickly without fear or regret. Hudson wouldn't help the White Sox now; Jackson might whether he's in a White Sox uniform or traded. What also has to be kept in mind is that while Hudson is 23, Jackson is about to turn 27. This isn't a trade of a young minor leaguer for a grizzled veteran that can be ripped as trading youth for a mid-rotation expensive luxury because Jackson is entering his prime years.

Did Williams look at the fact that Jackson is a contact pitcher and that his team is poor defensively? That there's a chance these factors along with the power-laden American League will result in Jackson giving up a lot of hits, runs and homers? Of course he did. But he doesn't care.

The Diamondbacks are collecting arms. Hudson can slide into their starting rotation; he's cheap and fresh and they got him for Jackson, who was a possible----albeit unlikely----non-tender candidate this winter; plus he's represented by Scott Boras which makes a reasonable contract extension all but impossible. The 19-year-old Holmberg is in the same category of the young pitchers they got from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade----low minors arms who won't be in the majors for awhile.

Another good move for both sides.

The Rays acquire RHP Chad Qualls from the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later.

Qualls has been horrendous this season. Was it that he was on the Diamondbacks? Was it the transition from set-up man to closer? Or was it the overwork he endured with the Astros as a part of their superlative bullpen that has sapped his pitches of the extra movement and pop on his fastball?

He looked great against the Mets in his final appearance with the Diamondbacks; his fastball was popping and moving. I tend to believe that the move to a contender with the Rays will revert him back to what he was with the Astros and he won't be asked to close. He's going to be a free agent and will be motivated to get a nice contract for next season.

It also has to be noted that Rays VP Gerry Hunsicker was Qualls's GM with the Astros and Jim Hickey his pitching coach; both should know the difference between him having lost a lot on his stuff and if ancillary factors were affecting him negatively.

This is a great move for the Rays.

  • I feed on your weakness:

Joining Jon Heyman (AKA SI_JonHeyman on Twitter) in the ranks of prominent sportswriters (for places of employment rather than content or ability) is New York Post columnist Joel Sherman (AKA JoelSherman1) as both have now....blocked me from following their tweets.

I almost feel embarrassed for them.


The players have thin skins? What about the writers who can't handle someone telling the truth about their inane baseball assertions and absurd mistakes in reporting? Their answer to honest questioning of them in any way warrants a block?

It would be one thing if I was abusive; if I called them names; if I cussed at them, but I don't. What truly spurs their fear of me isn't anything other than my point-by-point attacks on their work----in the present and past----to exemplify that which they got wrong and refuse to acknowledge. Like the murderous creature in Alien, I enter, wreak havoc and explode from the inside until there's little left but the dead carcass. Yes, I'm merciless, but I'm never cheap.

Being cheap would make me easier to dismiss.

Think about it. Joel Sherman currently has 12.221 people following his tweets. What does it say that he took the time and effort to block me? I hadn't even noticed that he'd done it until his account was linked as having Tweeted something about a trade and I clicked on to see what he'd said....and saw that his tweets were locked from people who aren't following him to see.

If you're unfamiliar with Twitter, you can block people from following you; and you can lock your tweets from being viewable by people not on Twitter or those who aren't following you.

Sherman locked his tweets for what appears to be a brief time; he's unlocked them now, but I'm still blocked. Frankly, I couldn't care less. His tweets----like Heyman's----provide little-to-nothing for much use as anything but entertainment and fodder for ridicule; but a columnist from the New York Post----hardly the bastion of journalistic integrity----locked his tweets from public viewing?!? On the eve of the MLB trading deadline to boot?!?

What does that say about him? About his reluctance to engage in debate with someone who has something to say and the ability to debate with an organized argument and no misgivings in stating his case and admitting he's wrong if need be.

Joel Sherman is a cheap shot artist who clearly can't handle my fire. This is the same person who has advocated the dismissals of baseball people with no compunction about them in the human sense; the same person who borderline slandered Art Howe when he managed the Mets as if he was the epitome of stupidity. Was Howe a good fit for the Mets and New York? No. But did he deserve to be ravaged so completely by the likes of Sherman who is proving to be so spineless that he has to block someone who disagrees with him?

So immersed in his own agenda, as recently as March of this year he played up the brilliance of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik (I discussed this recently and linked his insipid and ill-thought-out case) as the Mets having missed out on an "Amazin" executive----Posting July 19th.

Yeah. Amazin'. It's Amazin' that Zduriencik has made the Mariners worse than they were when he got there.

Ignoring me doesn't make me go away. In fact, blocking me was a hugely idiotic mistake since all it did was prove that I'm getting to him in some way; that he knows who I am and he can't deal with me and what I do.

These little men with their "sources" don't want to argue over issues or acknowledge the existence of a "blogger", but blocking me does just that.

If he has any shame, it should be eating away at him right now. Do you think that's happening? I don't. If he wants to scrap, we can scrap; but it's easier to run; to write garbage and avoid the criticism that comes with a public forum from a recognizable venue.

I have enough confidence in myself and my beliefs that I'm willing to engage with anyone. Shouldn't similar self-belief be a prerequisite for being a baseball "expert"?

Apparently not.

The problem is that they have no answers; no reply; inadequate firepower to retort----they won't run the risk of being publicly humiliated; but isn't it better to lose an argument than to be perceived as afraid. Running and hiding is easier and safer.

Locked tweets? Blocking? Cowering in the corner? He calls himself a man?

It's good try, but here's a flash----no one can hide from me.

  • Viewer Mail 7.31.2010:

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Roy Oswalt and the Phillies:

Meh. Despite this Oswalt deal, I still think the Phils miss the playoffs this year.

That's 50% wishful thinking and 50% analysis (albeit half-assed).

Hey, at least that one famed fan won't have to sell her body for playoff tix.

I'm sticking to my pre-season call on the Phillies fading, but if the Wild Card winds up at around 87-88 wins, they'll be within striking distance late.

I found it ludicrous that people were taking the twin events of Oswalt getting knocked around and losing to the Nationals and J.A. Happ's solid start for the Astros as an opportunity to lambaste the trade. It was one start for each.

What will be very interesting is if how the Phillies react to a missed post-season. The Red Sox and Yankees fans have accumulated a sense of entitlement that has affected their team's decisionmaking process and spurred them to (over)spend at times and make staff changes when they were unwarranted or unwise.

Sometimes I think it's easier for an organization like the Rays or Marlins----who have such an ambivalent fan base----that they can do what they want without repercussions. The Angels fans are reasonable as well and might be willing to accept their club's past success and give them time to retool on the fly if 2010 is indeed lost. Such is not going to be the case with the---ahem----demanding (let's be kind) fans in Philadelphia.

There's good chance that the overmatched Ruben Amaro Jr. will trade and spend his way out of trouble and only succeed in accelerating their demise.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Phillies, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt:

The trio of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels make the Phillies very formidable, no matter what their other weaknesses are. I'd be scaaaared if I were in that league.

With that bullpen and the dogfight just to make the playoffs, the Phillies are going to need to push their top three starters harder than a club with a trustworthy corps of relievers would. They can't afford to let Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, et al, gack up close games if the starters are more likely to slam them home.

Despite assertions to the contrary, Halladay isn't Superman and he's been pushed hard with the complete games; Oswalt has had nagging injuries; and Hamels is still a young pitcher who struggled in 2009 after his necessary overuse in 2008 on the way to the title. If they do make the playoffs, their top three might be gassed by the time they get there.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Jorge Cantu and the Rangers:

I like the Cantu trade. He'll probably play 1B, and he'll at least bolster his stats in The Hitters' Heaven in Arlington. I want the Rangers to win this year's pennant.

Cantu's the type of player who people forget about until he's hitting a clutch homer in extra innings in a big, late-season game or the playoffs. The Rangers are going for it and while the acquisition of Cliff Lee was flashy, getting Cantu may end up being more important.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Phillies:

Damn that Amaro is one strange...strange...strange cat. I don't get his thinking when you look at the whole Lee/Oswalt saga.
JA Happ...Gone! I can't fault the move on it's own merit in so far as making the playoff push. It's more of a case of what is that Amaro doing? Strange way of doing business. Oswalt is taking shots and has disk problems etc. It can work out for Phila...but can very easily blow up in their face. Happ was a good live arm.

As I said the other day, success is a dual-edged sword. Amaro worked his way up the ladder organically, but appears in over his head. It would take courage to be the one to step back and say he's not going to do certain things that could hurt the club's long-term future, especially in Philadelphia. But he's trying to be everything to everyone----maintain a prospect base; get Halladay; get Oswalt; keep Domonic Brown; considering trying to get Lee back----and it's very, very, very hard to do with a limited payroll.

Amaro's young; he can't be portrayed as the man who demolished the Phillies, but Pat Gillick knew his time as the Phillies GM was going to be short because of age and his penchant for moving around late in his career; Amaro can't say that; what he's doing with a championship club is going to follow him for the next 30 years as he works in baseball.

What's he's specifically trying to avoid----wrecking the place with desperation deals, overspending and losing with a team that had championship aspirations----could be exactly what's happening in a gaffe-laden, self-fulfilling prophecy.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz last Friday. You can listen directly here----link----or click on Sal's site and download it from I-Tunes.

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.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Down The Chimney---Ho, Ho, Ho

  • Christmas in July for the Phillies:

The Phillies made a short-term killing in getting Roy Oswalt and cash from the Astros for lefty J.A. Happ and two minor leaguers. Over the long term, the true nature of the success or failure of the trade will be more clear.

Let's take a look at the deal for everyone involved.

The Astros add volume and ability at a low cost.

In exchange for Oswalt and $11 million to offset his remaining guaranteed money and 2012 buyout, the Astros received Happ, minor league outfielder Anthony Gose and infielder Jonathan Villar. They then spun Gose to the Blue Jays for Triple A first baseman Brett Wallace.

Gose, 20, is a speed demon who, judging by the number of times he gets caught stealing, is still learning how to adequately use his gifts. Villar is a 19-year-old middle infielder who can run as well. Both are in the low minors and aren't players for whom the Phillies or their fans should get into a twist about losing in the short-term----and who knows what they'll be in five years time?

Happ has positives and negatives. I love his stuff and think he can be a consistent winner in the big leagues with the potential to win 15-18 games on a good team; he's also not as young as you'd think considering that he was a rookie last season. Soon to be 28, he fits the mold of Phillies prospects who were kept in the minors until they were deemed absolutely ready to play in the big leagues; they did the same thing with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and it's hard to argue with that success. Happ has not been overused by the organization so a burnout shouldn't be an issue. He'll be extremely cheap for the next few years and, providing he's healthy, will be a solid starter for the rebuilding Astros.

That's the key. Happ's health.

Happ missed most of the first half of the season with a forearm strain and only recently returned to big league action. A forearm strain has to be monitored and could be a precursor to a more serious injury like a torn ligament that requires Tommy John surgery. One would assume----a big assumption with some teams----that the Astros received the proper medical reports on Happ and are satisfied that he's well enough to pitch without risk.

Another issue with Happ is his pressure-handling skills. In last year's post-season, he had control problems and a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face as if he was petrified. This is not something to discount if and when the Astros improve enough to make a playoff run. It's hard to win with frightened players and Happ appeared frightened.

If he's healthy and allowed to pitch and develop for a bad team, Happ can be a useful piece in the Astros rebuild because of his talent and low financial cost. His health is most imperative because he's good enough to win in the big leagues.

As for Villar, who knows? He's 19. The Astros have a gaping hole at shortstop so if Villar is on the fast track, it's not absurd to think he could be in the big leagues as soon as 2011.

The acquisition of Wallace was entertaining in the way it rapidly removed the dunce cap from the head of Astros GM Ed Wade. First, he was being referred to in all sorts of derogatory terms, then he suddenly wasn't all that bad when he acquired a big league ready bat to replace the soon-to-be-traded Lance Berkman.

If Berkman's not traded now, the Astros are either going to decline his $15 million option for 2011----he has a $2 million buyout----or in essence complete a "sign-and-trade" by having a trade in place to a venue to which Berkman agrees to waive his no-trade clause before activating the option. They can get something for Berkman and insert Wallace in his place.

Despite Wallace's frequent address changes----he's been traded three times in the past year in the middle of some big deals, he's a big time prospect. Traded from the Cardinals to the Athletics as the centerpiece for Matt Holliday, he was only Athletics property for half a season; he was traded from the Athletics to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor as Billy Beane skillfully insinuated himself in the wild machinations of the Cliff Lee to the Mariners/Roy Halladay to the Phillies trades; and now he's been sent to the Astros where he'll presumably get his opportunity to play in the majors. Wallace is 23 and judging by his numbers, he can really hit, doesn't strike out much and gets on base.

Aside from the money they kicked in, the Astros did quite well in getting two inexpensive and immediately implementable cogs with Happ and Wallace and a young player who could be playing shortstop for them in the near future.

The Phillies reap the benefits of back room machinations.

Without knowing exactly what happened, it's clear that the Phillies benefited greatly from several outside factors.

First, Ed Wade was a longtime Phillies employee and functioned as their GM from 1998 until the end of the 2005 season. One thing I find funny about the way Wade is perceived is that he's considered a fool whom the Phillies were lucky to be rid of...but it was under Wade that they drafted Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Pat Burrell, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Joe Saunders (he didn't sign), Gavin Floyd, Michael Bourn and Kyle Kendrick.

Many credit scouting director Mike Arbuckle for the drafting of these players----most of whom contributed in some way to the Phillies run of excellence----no one knows how much influence Wade had in their acquisition and development; but it's twisted to blame Wade for the failures of the organization and credit others for the successes.

In a prime example of the fleeting nature of ill-informed perception, Wade was cast as everything ranging from corrupt in trying to help the Phillies and getting little back; to incompetent; to not being all that bad when he netted Walllace for Gose.

Did Wade want to help the Phillies? It's only human to think that he still has some affection for the team for whom he worked for so long; a team that still has a large number of players he brought into the organization and helped develop. In comparison to the other teams that were after Oswalt, the Cardinals being most notable, I can't imagine that Wade or McLane wanted to see Oswalt in a Cardinals uniform regardless of the pitcher's desires or the offer the Cardinals presented.

These surreptitious maneuvers that scream, "let me help my friend" happen far more often than is realized. I'm still convinced that Omar Minaya's affability and popularity as a person around baseball helped him in the Johan Santana negotiations. No one can prove it, nor would they admit it, but I'm sure both the Yankees and Red Sox got word to Minaya with a spy-level of subterfuge that neither were in on the deal; that he should hold out because the Twins had nowhere else to go. It also helped that both the Yankees and Red Sox were invested in keeping Santana away from the other while simultaneously getting him away from a rival in the Twins and out of the American League.

It happens.

Wade isn't a great GM, but he's not an idiot. I can think of many worse GMs than Ed Wade based on their practical decisionmaking----and one is Ruben Amaro Jr.

Ruben Amaro Jr. should play the lottery. That's how lucky he is. I said yesterday that the Phillies would be insane for trading Happ and prospects for Oswalt, but that was under the belief that they'd be absorbing his whole salary; and they're not.

Because the negotiations were taken over by Astros owner Drayton McLane, who was speaking directly to Phillies owner David Montgomery----CBS Sports Blog----it's not hard to see that McLane was influencing the deal heavily. After acceptable players were agreed upon, it's clear that McLane's affinity for Oswalt caused the strange agreement to give the Phillies such a large amount of money to pay him; that he wanted to put a longtime, loyal player in a good situation to win.

McLane is criticized for his meddling, but he nixed sell-offs in both 2005 and 2008 as the "experts" had buried his club both times and the Astros climbed from dire circumstances to make the World Series in '05; and come within a few games of the Wild Card in '08. He spends money when he needs to and the team has been successful on and off the field with him as owner.

What more do people want? A Billy Beane book length resume (AKA Moneyball) of faux brilliance? Or someone who's done things that looked odd at the time, but worked?

Indirectly, this all helped Amaro. He got Oswalt for relatively little in the present. Happ wasn't going to help the Phillies all that much this season; the young players are years away; and they didn't spend all that much money to get a top starting pitcher for 2010 and 2011.

That said, the Phillies had better win now because they're expensive and aging. The core of the team is signed long-term to lucrative contracts and, by the time 2012 rolls around, will be in their mid-30s; the team will have a vastly different face.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay are all locked in to be Phillies for the long term; but Jimmy Rollins, Brad Lidge, Oswalt and Raul Ibanez all have contracts set to expire after 2011 and are hard to see remaining with the club (although Amaro's loony contract extension for Howard makes anything possible); they'll also possibly have a new manager with Charlie Manuel 66-years-old.

This would all be fine if they weren't gutting the farm system to win now!!!

Much was made of bolstering the prospect base when trading Cliff Lee, but they've traded a chunk of their youth to acquire these veterans. This is a cost of being a contender annually and having a fan base that expects success as a birthright; they can't back off of trying to win immediately; a byproduct of that desire is the loss of kids who would infuse the big league club with inexpensive energy.

The loss of Arbuckle makes replenishing the system all the more difficult and Amaro----with the questionable trade of Lee and the terrible signings of the likes of Danys Baez and contract extensions for Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton, is putting his team in this position where they're going to have to continue shelling out for veteran help with little flexibility in payroll and a diminishing number of desirable prospects.

The Phillies have leapt back into the playoff race for both the Wild Card and the NL East----and they'd better win now because the window is closing rapidly.

This makes the Phillies better, but doesn't address fundamental holes.

With Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, the Phillies throw out three top, proven starters. But that doesn't address the bullpen; nor does it halt the lingering questions about the clubhouse factions breaking out over salacious rumors of an affair between Jayson Werth and Chase Utley's wife. Utley has been out with a torn ligament in his thumb so isn't around the team; but eventually, he'll be back; if the rumors are true, will personal problems be on the back-burner? Is it possible?

Werth was on the trading block, but circumstances have made that impossible with the oblique injury to Victorino; the pending free agent Werth is not getting through waivers after July 31st, so he's going to be with the club.

The Phillies are going to be in the playoff hunt, but Manuel will have to do his best job yet of keeping everyone on the same page of winning on the field while not having an off-field explosion. The weaknesses of the National League contenders have given new life to a Phillies team that was slumping terribly. They're battle-tested and have come through in the clutch before. Contrary to popular belief, their playoff chances don't hinge on those three starters, but how well the bullpen performs down the stretch.

  • It's not the trading deadline, it's the Twilight Zone:

Some of the other trades that have been completed are sensible; some are strange.

Padres acquire INF Miguel Tejada from the Orioles for Double A RHP Wynn Pelzer and cash.

The Padres needed a big time offensive upgrade.

Miguel Tejada is not a big time offensive upgrade. In fact, he's not much of an upgrade at all.

The Padres are based on pitching and defense.

Miguel Tejada, who cannot play shortstop anymore, is going to be playing a lot of shortstop.

They didn't give up much to get him, but just because something is cheap, that doesn't mean you're obligated to take it. I don't understand this.

Twins acquire RHP Matt Capps for minor league catcher Wilson Ramos and minor league LHP Joe Testa:

I like Matt Capps, but is he worth the Twins top prospect? Even if the top prospect is a catcher and has his way blocked by Joe Mauer? Ramos is a work in progress, but Capps has been overworked by the Nationals; isn't an upgrade at closer over Jon Rauch and is a pitcher the quality you could presumably find after the non-waiver trading deadline and not give up your best prospect to get.

The Twins have made some questionable deals in recent years. The aforementioned Santana trade was a train wreck; and sending Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris didn't look particularly good before this year----Young's playing very well----but they'd have been better off keeping Garza and Bartlett.

A smart organization that runs their team correctly, the Twins make an awful lot of strangely overaggressive trades for middling players and this deal for Capps is the latest one. You have to get more for your top prospect----who plays a sought after position----than Capps.

Rangers acquire INF Jorge Cantu from the Marlins for minor league RHPs Evan Reed and Omar Poveda:

If anything exemplifies what the Marlins do, it's how they replenished the floundering Cantu, used him to their own benefit for a couple of years, then traded him for useful, organization-building arms.

Cantu had been released by the Cincinnati Reds after 2007 and was invited to spring training on a minor league contract by the Marlins in 2008. Cantu had a terrific year with 29 homers, 95 RBI and 70 extra base hits. He had another fine year last season and was slumping a bit this year, but still hitting with some pop (10 homers). He's versatile and will hit in the cozy confines of Rangers Ballpark.

This is an excellent deal for both sides.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz last Friday. You can listen directly here----link----or click on Sal's site and download it from I-Tunes.

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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Because He's La Russa...

  • ...he gets away with stuff:

Because he has a record that puts him in the pantheon of managers in baseball history; because he's always had a reason for doing the things he does; because he's got a law degree and is considered not only one of baseball's best and smartest managers in history, but one of the smartest people, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is allowed to get away with things for which other managers would be roasted and probably fired.

There are the usual criticisms: he overmanages his bullpen; he reinvents the game with his decision to bat the pitcher eighth (there's an interesting column about this by Tyler Kepner in today's NY Times); he's had embarrassing public dustups with players; he's defended the guilty in a blind, ludicrous way; and he's repeatedly lost in the playoffs with superior teams.

These criticisms do have merit; but for the most part, La Russa's teams are going to play the game correctly, win regularly and be contenders without fail. If he has championship-level players, he'll have them competing for a championship; if he has players that are able to be manipulated and molded to what he and pitching coach Dave Duncan are trying to do----although lacking in star talent----they'll still hang around contention and possibly break through as they did in 2006.

I've gone over his successes with marginal talents like Jeff Suppan and the rebuilding of the likes of Chris Carpenter; his failures with Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew; the public disputes with Ruben Sierra, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds; and his absurd defense of Mark McGwire when McGwire was repeatedly denying use of performance enhancing drugs. My point isn't about La Russa himself, but what La Russa's success and reputation allows him to do during games that other managers either wouldn't have the guts to try or would possibly get fired if they did.

Last night, La Russa made a bizarre decision in allowing lefty Trever Miller to pitch to David Wright with 2 outs in the bottom of the 12th inning knowing how Wright murders lefties----link----and that Wright cannot catch up to a good power fastball anymore. Mike MacDougal was warming up in the Cardinals bullpen and La Russa elected to roll the dice by allowing Miller to pitch to Wright. Miller is exactly the type of lefty upon whom Wright feasts. Wright grounded back to Miller; MacDougal pitched the bottom of the 13th and retired the Mets in order; the Cardinals won the game.

It was still the wrong move even though it worked.

Had Wright homered off of Miller, La Russa would've been questioned about it, bristled at the audacity of anyone who dared second guess the great Tony La Russa, intimidated the reporters and said that he left Miller in because he was running out of pitchers; didn't know MacDougal that well; and he trusted the big ballpark to keep Wright in the yard even if Miller made a mistake.

Success or failure has little to do with strategy being "correct"; La Russa had reason to do what he did and it worked. It was still wrong.

This brings out the bottom line with a manager----whether or not his decisions work and if the team wins. In the end that's all that matters.

La Russa has been a success because he's had a reason for doing the things he does----even if they don't make obvious sense----and because they've worked. Is Charlie Manuel a good strategic manager? Is Joe Girardi? Is Lou Piniella? Is Terry Francona? Is Mike Scioscia? Is Joe Torre?

They all have their hiccups; their flaws; their strengths. They've survived because of the simple fact that they've won. Scioscia is widely regarded as the "best" manager in baseball while his teams have had as many playoff meltdowns as La Russa's have. Many times it's been because of gaffes by Scioscia. One glaring example is the squeeze bunt against the Red Sox in game four of the 2008 ALDS.

The game was tied in the top of the ninth inning, the Angels had Reggie Willits on 3rd base and one out. Scioscia called for a suicide squeeze with Erick Aybar at the plate. Aybar couldn't get the bunt down and Willits got caught in a rundown and tagged out. It was a ridiculous decision in those circumstances. This exemplifies Scioscia's strengths and weaknesses. The strengths----he trusts his players; is willing to gamble; follows his own template without deviation----are as much of a reason for his label as the "best" as those same qualities that are a foundation for failure. The Angels had a strategy of using speed and aggressiveness and stuck to it after they'd acquired a power bat for the middle of the lineup in Mark Teixeira at mid-season. The adherence to "what we do" as in the Angels strategy is part of the reason they're brilliantly run and consistently successful. Scioscia is a big reason for that and he's never getting fired no matter what he does.

But the "best" manager in baseball? It's all contextual; a circular entitly.

Earl Weaver was a great manager not because of his success; not because he was entrenched as the Orioles manager forever; but because he adjusted based on his personnel. La Russa does that; Scioscia doesn't.

Are they wrong? Are they right?

I think Jim Tracy is the best strategic manager in baseball, but his Colorado Rockies are in freefall; he had no success with the Pittsburgh Pirates in two years as their manager. Is it because of him? Was his elevation to the manager's office for the Rockies was spurred their blazing hot run last season that led them to the playoffs? Or was it other factors? Was it the change from Clint Hurdle to the more subdued and cerebral Tracy? Was his failure with the Pirates a lack of talent and that the Pirates are, well, the Pirates? Or was it that everything clicked at the right time?

Bobby Valentine is a superior strategist to just about anyone in baseball, but can't find a job in the majors because of his personality and that people don't want to deal with the "Bobby V package"; it's understandable.

A manager can do the right things on and off the field and still be on the chopping block. He can do the wrong things----as Joe Maddon often does----and still win because of talent.

Much was made of Joe Torre's calm leadership during the Yankees run under his watch and as I said weeks ago, he deserves credit for the success, but he also warrants blame for the failures. Many other managers could've won with that Yankees team in the late 90s.

The 2001 Diamondbacks were so laden with veteran leaders that they could essentially have functioned without a manager (and they sort of did with the empty uniform Bob Brenly).

So, which is it?

Is La Russa a genius because of his courage as a gambler? Because of his intelligence? Or does his job security because of his success allow him to have that courage and gamble?

It feeds into itself; and it's a perk of having won and being perceived as "knowing" what he's doing even if it's wrong or fails.

It's a perk of being La Russa and he takes full advantage of it.

  • The Phillies are insane if they trade J.A. Happ for Roy Oswalt:

The latest rumor (take these for what they're worth regardless of the source) is that the Phillies are the last team standing in competition for Astros righty Roy Oswalt.

Without issuing the cheap shot that will be fired by everyone regarding the overall absurdity of the Phillies trading He Who Shall Not Be Named (otherwise known as Cliff Lee) in the interests of maintaining financial sanity and re-stocking the organization with prospects, I have a different----more logical take----on the whole morass.

I'm not of the camp that believes the Phillies should allow outside influences and said cheap shot artists to affect their decisions one way or the other. If they feel Oswalt is their best option to win now, they can't worry about what people say about He Who Shall Not Be Named and how ridiculous it was to trade him in the first place.

That said, are they out of their minds?

They're going to trade J.A. Happ---a future annual 15-game winner provided he's healthy----and absorb the Oswalt salary for this year, next year and possibly 2012 if Oswalt demands his 2012 option be exercised to okay a trade to the Phillies? And it's not only Happ they're trading; the latest is that the Astros are going to get Happ and other prospects.

Factoring in the salary of Oswalt; the way the Phillies farm system has been gutted in the past two years; that the Shane Victorino injury will prevent them from trading Jayson Werth to bring in the prospects to get Oswalt (as one of the plans suggested), and the Phillies are digging a hole deeper than former BP CEO Tony Heyward and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich could formulate with their flapping mouths and notorious ineptitude. A hole they won't be able to climb out of in the coming years.

I'll hold off on really lambasting the Phillies and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. until a deal is completed----ESPN is reporting that a deal is done and requires Oswalt's approval before being official----but if the Phillies trade Happ and prospects for Oswalt, they're absolute fools no matter what Oswalt does in a Phillies uniform.

  • Viewer Mail 7.29.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Stephen Strasburg and John Tudor:

John Tudor. Now that's an interesting name from the past. But back to Strasburg, of course the Nationals were right to be cautious with him and scratch his start. Not only is he a talented young pitcher, but he's their box office, their biggest asset. Why mess around and have him "play hurt?"

I'm trying to imagine the reaction if Strasburg hadn't said something or if the Nationals had pitched him regardless of shoulder woes and he'd really gotten hurt. I think the reaction would quite possibly have been somewhat negative.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Strasburg and the Nationals fans:

It's obvious that the good folks in D.C. still don't understand the finer points of baseball. The people who came to the game last night were pissed off 'cuz he didn't start?

They just don't get it.


It's times like these that I wish Tim Russert were still alive. He'd kick these newbie fans' asses for sure.

In fairness to the Nationals fans, there's not that much of a reason to go see the Nats at this point aside from having a look at Strasburg. All fan bases have their non-baseball, event-types who'll only go because they're going to be seen there and have the ability to say that they were there. Plus, it's Washington DC----I don't believe much in the way of conviction goes on around there unless you're talking in a court of law when the scandals come out and the sacrificial flunkies are made to take the blame for their boss's activities that were outside the law.

Anonymous writes RE Ichiro Suzuki:

Ichiro a diva? Perhaps, but if you actually read any of the interviews he's given, it seems pretty clear that he does care what happens to the team. I think part of what Americans see as selfishness is simply a cultural emphasis that doesn't translate well.

For instance--"Ichiro should dive for more balls in the outfield." Ichiro has stated more than once that he doesn't do that often for two reasons: first, because diving rarely makes the difference between catching and not catching; and second, because diving is more likely to injure him, costing the team his services.

Or another good one--"Ichiro should steal more often." Considering that last year was the first time in his career that he finished outside of the top 5 in the AL, that seems a bit harsh. Ichiro's thoughts on the matter? Better (if you're not sure you can take it) to hold back and remain on the bases than get thrown out and cost the team both a lead runner and an out. His 80%+ career success rate speaks for itself.

I understand why people who attack me refuse to leave a name, but when someone writes something reasonably intelligent, I don't get the need for anonymity.

Of course Ichiro cares about what happens to the team, but there's a fine line between selfishness and helping the team and it's often indistinguishable to outside observers; but the players know. You can have a player who says he's helping the team by getting base hits when it's known that the assertion of "helping the team" is on equal footing, in his mind, with padding his stats.

No one can question Ichiro's defensive credentials----he's a terrific outfielder with a fine arm; and the diving is negligible; it's necessary when it's necessary and if he needs to dive for a ball, he should dive for a ball; but he's so fast and so good that he doesn't generally need to dive. I'll give him a pass on that one.

The stolen bases? Also negligible. I'm against arbitrary basestealing just for the sake of it----it's one of my issues with Jose Reyes over the years; sometimes he steals only to shove it in the face of the opponents when he's far better off staying where he is; he's cut down on that.

My definition of a selfish player is one who could do more to help the team even if it means sacrificing individual achievement; what makes Ichiro worse is that he's acting selfishly with his reluctance to try to hit for power and instead accumulating singles under the pretense of helping the team and has the "cultural emphasis" shielding him and explaining away his behaviors.

The "cultural emphasis" you allude to is convenient when questions are raised about his apparent lack of passion and penchant for slapping the ball the other way to get to his 250 hits; but he's ignored said "culture" points when collecting vast amounts of money from the Mariners while using pending free agency and a threat to leave as a lever to force out manager Mike Hargrove because Ichiro didn't like him.

Hargrove wasn't a great strategic manager, but he handled the clubhouse and was respected; can that be said of his full-time successors John McLaren and Don Wakamatsu? McLaren was the epitome of the longtime bench coach in over his head when given the big job; and Wakamatsu has had disciplinary issues throughout this whole season. Hargrove was unafraid of getting in a player's face for such transgressions. So how's that worked out for the Mariners and Ichiro? He's got his money and a manager he approves of....and the team's awful.

In the end, with Ichiro it's about Ichiro. While he's on a team that's winning, he subtly alters his game to win; for some players, when things are spiraling and the team cause is lost, it's every man for himself; and Ichiro is one such player. There's no justification for being a pure singles hitter and a diva and making $17 million a year. None.

He's been in North America for almost ten years----is he not completely assimilated? Or is he only assimilated when trying to get paid and stat compile his way into the Hall of Fame while playing for an annual loser?

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Friday. You can listen directly here----link----or click on Sal's site and download it from I-Tunes.

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.