September 16, 2016

A BREACH OF TRUST

A good general manager is a man of his word. Very few succeed by trying to rip off another club in a trade. Trades are supposed to be made for the mutual benefit of both sides.

So when MLB suspended the Padres GM for serious breach of protocol, it was a surprise.

San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller was suspended Thursday for 30 games without pay by Major League Baseball, hours after news hit that the Padres allegedly withheld player health information in hopes of getting the upper hand in trade discussions.

ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote that the Padres allegedly built a special database to document player health details while skirting MLB’s rules about injury information. In essence, the Padres kept two sets of records: One that was incomplete and shared with other teams and another that was complete and kept in-house.

The Padres were called into question because of their July trades with the Boston Red Sox and Miami Marlins, which according to Olney, left teams thinking the Padres were using “strategic deception.”
In its announcement of Preller’s punishment, MLB didn’t comment on the specifics of its probe, saying only:
Major League Baseball has completed an investigation into the July 14th transaction in which pitcher Drew Pomeranz was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Boston Red Sox. MLB’s Department of Investigations conducted the thorough review, which included interviews with relevant individuals from both Clubs. The findings were submitted to Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
As a result of this matter, Major League Baseball announced today that A.J. Preller, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Padres, has received a 30-day suspension without pay.
MLB considers the matter closed and will have no further comment.
Olney said at least three teams complained about the Padres to MLB.

Major League Baseball has a central database for player health information, where teams are supposed to keep their notes on injuries. In the event of a trade, doctors for each team trade codes and look at player notes. According to Olney, the Padres started keeping all the important notes in their separate database this year.

At the trade deadline, the Padres traded Drew Pomeranz the Red Sox and Andrew Cashner and Colin Read to the Marlins. Rea was hurt in his first start with the Marlins and in a highly unusual move, he was returned to the Padres The Red Sox were angered when they learned about preventative treatment Pomeranz was going through that wasn’t in his Padres notes.

In decades past, trades between teams were always "buyer beware." Each team had the responsibility to conduct a medical evaluation on a player before agreeing with a deal. MLB has streamlined the medical records process to help trade and free agent market evaluations.

The Padres intentionally deceived the other clubs by not putting in medical treatment into the central data base. It calls into question the trustworthiness of the San Diego organization in future team transactions. 

September 8, 2016

CHERRY PICKS

With every successful sports franchise, leaders and managers tend to get looked over for promotions with other teams.  It is trying to buy past success with a new employer.

Rumors have started to circulate that Cubs executives could be top talent to other organizations.  There are strong rumors that the Twins are pursuing Cubs execs Jason McLeod or Shiraz Rehman for their top baseball operations job.

McLeod has been a part of Theo Epstein's inner circle from their Boston Red Sox days.
While Jed Hoyer worked with Epstein on Boston player acquisitions, contract negotiations, player evaluations and sabermetrics, McLeod's expertise is in amateur scouting.

The Twins, being a small market team, need to have a strong scouting and development department in order to compete with big money, free agent spending teams like the Detroit Tigers, Red Sox, or Yankees.

While Epstein's contract expires after the end of the season, it is unclear the status of McLeod's contract term. In any event, it is standard practice for most teams to allow an employee to interview for a promotion with another club.

As discussed previously, the Epstein contract extension situation with the Ricketts is strange. Why both sides have not concluded an extension after last season's success is baffling to industry insiders. It shows that there has to be some rift between the baseball and business sides of the organization.

So Epstein's management team may look to parachute to new positions. This is similar to what happened when Epstein's reign was coming to an end in Boston; many of his staff went elsewhere including to the Padres before rejoining him in Chicago.

So it will be no surprise that the other teams will want to hire Cub baseball executives this off-season.


August 29, 2016

THE WHITE SOX PLAN

For the past week, White Sox management has been reported in disarray on the direction of the team. Will the team sell off parts like Sale, Quintana or Abreu in order to do a complete rebuild of the minor league system? Will Ventura, Hahn or Williams remain part of the management? Will managing partner for the owners, Reinsdorf, even allow a total tear down?

The White Sox just netted $82 million for naming rights for a stadium which the team does not own. There is plenty of extra cash coming into the Sox operations. The question is what to do?

Sox fans look to the North Side and see the Cubs on the verge of a historic World Series run with young talent that is getting better each week. Sox fans envy the Cubs rebuild success. But die hard South Siders can still point to the 2005 WS flag while the Cubs dream is still in hope mode.

But the Sox have done nothing special since their championship season. As everyone is aware, there is no guarantee that any team, no matter how good on paper or how many wins in the regular season, can get a championship or sustain a championship caliber team year to year.

The White Sox front office has stressed this week that this off-season "everyone will be on the same page."  The Sox claim to have a plan. It is an omen that that the Sox just traded catcher Navarro to the Blue Jays for a promising AA left handed relief pitcher?  The White Sox GM Hahn will not say what the team's real direction will be for 2017.

Frustrated sports thinkers believe the Sox have to blow up the team and start from scratch. But that begs another question: do you trust the people currently in charge to rebuild a team?  Granted, the White Sox have been really good at drafting and developing pitching talent. Nine of their top 20 prospects are quality pitchers. It is that the team scouting department cannot draft and develop consistent position players. And management trades and free agent signings have looked good on paper, but in the past two season the team has woefully underperformed their potential.

So what is the real solution for the White Sox woes?

Hire Theo Epstein.

Epstein still does not have a contract extension from the Cubs. Which is highly unusual considering the success the Cubs have had the past two seasons. It appears that Epstein wants to become the ultimate management free agent - - - with a track record to command the most money for a baseball executive and possibly and equity stake in a team.

Epstein has been running the Cubs baseball operations with one hand tied behind his back since the "business side" of the operation is controlled by Crane Kenney and Tom Ricketts. Epstein would prefer to run the entire show.

But in order to do that with the White Sox, Reinsdorf will have to fire Ventura, Hahn and Williams. Reinsdorf is known to be very loyal to his managers. He promoted Williams from GM to President instead of firing him. Can Reinsdorf purge his loyal employees to try to win another championship?

He may not have any choice. The stealing of Epstein from the Cubs would be a PR boom for Sox nation. It would energize the fan base and increase ticket sales. It would be poking a stick in the eye of Cub ownership. Reinsdorf, who is all business, would see the value in hiring Epstein away from his city rival.

But what are the odds that this could happen? With no movement in the Cubs-Epstein contract talks for more than a year, I would say it could be 50-50.  The other big market teams have new management in place (Dodgers, Red Sox).

If the White Sox really want to shake up Chicago baseball this off-season, ownership needs to be bold.


August 22, 2016

WOOD HE PLEASE STOP?

Will Maddon please stop with the manta of playing players out of position?

There was absolutely no reason to play Travis Wood in LF during yesterday's Rockies blowout of the Cubs. None.

The bullpen has been hit with a surge of injuries and tired arms. You do not need one of your healthy lefties to go out and try to cover the vast space of left field, in thin air, just to save Jason Heyward who had not played in three consecutive games.

Calling it a Maddon "fun" interjection in a bad game is no excuse. Yes, Wood got a single in his only at-bat while the rest of the team mustered three. But what if he got hurt playing left in a meaningless game?

The more times Maddon does this stunt, the odds increase that someone will get hurt.

The Cubs cannot believe they are coasting to the playoffs.  The bullpen continues to be a concern, and the starting rotation needs skip-start rest. With Montgomery and Cahill being the spot-start tandem, that thins out the regular bullpen availability of relievers like Wood.

In September, the Cubs will bring up additional outfielders and infielders and as many live arms that they can find. But until then, Maddon needs to just play players in their natural positions.

August 15, 2016

ARM FATIGUE

John Lackey was pulled from his last start due to soreness in the shoulder.
That is not a good sign. Afterward, he said he'd be "fine." Joe Maddon said some
post game treatment has helped him.

But most likely, he will skip his next start.

There is a doubleheader soon with a 26th man - - - most likely a spot starter like Cahill or Montgomery.

But Lackey's exit continues to spotlight the one weakness in the Cubs team: pitching.

Starting pitching has been the constant for the team with the best record in baseball. But it is a fragile rotation.

But the focus has been on the fragile bullpen. Nathan, Montgomery, Smith have been brought in to solidify a shaky pen. Only Chapman has been the real deal, monster closer.

Rondon was achy to come back and lose the final Cardinal game. Many fans hope it was just rust.

It is becoming one of those games of musical chairs with no real great ending.

The Cubs just signed Joe Thatcher to a minor league contract after the Indians cut him for the third time this season. Thatcher has not pitched in the majors in 2016. But it shows that the Cubs have no pitching depth in the system to overcome a Strop injury, nagging issues with Rondon, or the badness of Smith's home run pitches.

The bullpen will remain an issue for the rest of the season. It seems Maddon only trusts Chapman (for one inning only) and Wood (in any inning or game situation). He wants Rondon to be the 8th inning guy but there is an apparent transition for closers who lose their jobs. One would think that pitching is pitching - - - but players are intense creatures of habit.

Expect Lackey to miss at least one start. Also, each of the other four starters will get an extra day of rest in September as the Cubs need to start planning now for the post season rotation.

August 10, 2016

IAN STEWART 2.0

When Tommy LaStella did not report to AAA Iowa in 72 hours after his option, we knew that was odd. Then it was reported that he was dealing with "personal issues." That was strange since there was no more information. Now, 13 days have past and the truth his filtering out.

La Stella’s me-first refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa isn’t connected to any health issue, personal emergency or family crisis, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon confirmed Tuesday, 11 days after the Cubs optioned out the bench player as a way to make room for outfielder Chris Coghlan and deal with the 25-man roster crunch.

This is the Ian Stewart situation all over again.

The trade for Stewart was the worst under Epstein's tenure with the Cubs. Stewart was supposed to be a high average, power third baseman from Colorado. He turned out to be a dud. He refused an option to AAA to work on his game. Instead, he went home to sulk. In the end, the Cubs had to get rid of him.

La Stella told ESPN that he’s considering retirement if he can’t play for the big-league team. Earlier this season, La Stella explained to his hometown New Jersey newspaper how he temporarily quit baseball in high school and rediscovered the joy of the game with Maddon’s Cubs.

“He’s not angry,” Maddon said before a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field. “He’s not upset. He’s just at that point now where he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do.

“We all have a different lens (for) how we view the world. I know when I went through my Kurt Vonnegut stage, I was kind of screwed up when I was 21.”

However, La Stella is 27. He should know better. He is a  role player on a good team that has more good players than roster spots.  LaStella may be upset that he may not get on the playoff roster if he is viewed as "inventory" by the demotion.

“I think ‘disappointed’ would be the wrong word,” Hoyer said. “Given how much we’ve talked to him, trying to understand where he’s coming from, empathize with him and give him the space.”

Commentators have started to opine on what LaStella is doing to the Cubs. Did he quit on his teammates? Does refusing to go to Iowa hurt the major league team? Is he selfish? He only wants to play in the big leagues? Was he unprofessional? In the modern pampered athlete world is that even possible?  If he reports to Iowa and badmouths his treatment by the Cubs, will that have a negative impact on organizational players?

Why does LaStella think he is more important than the organization making any move necessary to win a championship? The answer is no.

The White Sox have shown the sports world that baseball employees go off the handle at management without any responsibility or harsh accountability. In a normal business, someone who does not show up for work gets fired for cause. But athletes seem to be immune from the realities of the real employment world.

If LaStella does not want to play, cut him.

The Cubs are doing fine without him.

August 3, 2016

RECORD BAD LUCK

Oh, the White Sox.

On paper, the last two years were supposed to be good.

In reality, not so much.

The team has probably set a unique and bitter record this season.

Charlie Tilson was helped off the field by manager Robin Ventura and trainer Herm Schneider after Tilson, making his debut after a trade with the Cardinals, injured his hamstring and knee on an outfield play.

Tilson was the fourth Sox player injured in the White Sox debut game. Catcher Kevan Smith had to be scratched before a game in Toronto in April when he got hurt warming up.  Left fielder Jason Coats cut his lip and was dazed colliding with center fielder J.B. Shuck on June 4 in Detroit.  Matt Davidson fractured his right foot running the bases against the Twins June 30 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Four players hurt in their first games.

Not a great beginning.

During every season, a team needs some luck in order to win. Some teams seem to have a dark cloud over them or bad luck chases them down.

The White Sox have had a strange year. First, the spring training blow up of LaRoche's son being the team mascot. Second, Chris Sale butchering throw back uniforms in a tantrum. Now, four young players going on the DL during their debuts.

The White Sox need to get younger in the field. The free agent veterans acquired in the past three seasons have not panned out this year. Adding speedy Tilson in center field for the injured Austin Jackson was supposed to be the final spark to right the season. Instead, it flamed out.

Tilson was the only trade deadline move the team made. There were inquiries about Sale and Jose Quintana, but the Sox wanted a ransom for either starting pitcher. Besides, what good players do the White Sox have to build a competitive team around besides Sale and Quintana?