This and That
July 27, 2006

Managers have a pretty tough job.  It's easy when things are going well to fill in a line-up card and figure out which reliever to bring in with a lead late in the game, but the vast majority of games there's a little extra to deal with and much of it not evident.  Guys get nicked up playing everyday and sometimes need a day off.  Hitters go into slumps and sometimes they last an uncomfortably long time.  What do you do when a regular player hasn't had a hit in four or five games?  Does one sit him to let him gather his thoughts or is it best to let him play through it?  How does one help him get his confidence back: by putting them in high leverage situations (which shows you still have confidence in them but then risk making the situation worse if he fails) or putting them in low leverage situations or on the bench where very little is required.  It's the part of managing 25 players where managers earn their salaries.  Still, there are some days when managers appear to be like the rest of us - without a clue as to what's really going on inside the team.

For example, last week Mike Scioscia was quoted as saying, "Kendry's still a guy we have a lot of confidence in, but there comes a point with any player where he needs to get it done, or if there's a better option, you'll do it.  I'm not saying we're at that point, but we're watching it very closely."   Unfortunately, Morales didn't even get one more plate appearance to prove the Angels weren't at that point.  And the guy they optioned him for?  Thirty-seven year old outfielder Curtis Pride.  Nevermind that they already have an extra outfielder who rarely sees playing time with Reggie Willits on the roster.  They needed another one, only much, much older.  The proposed replacement at first is a platoon of Robb Quinlan and Dallas McPherson, but since when has McPherson proved he could do something other than strike out against major league pitching?  By my accounting, the 26-year old with three stints in the majors has a career .249 average (.296 on base) with 23 walks and 118 Ks in 354 at bats.  His slugging against right-handers is good when he makes contact (.524), but he's totally overmatched by lefties (.437 OPS) and even against right-handers he's struck out in a third of his at bats (58 in 187 chances).  Morales' numbers in his first 200 ABs were as good as McPherson's and he's two years younger.  Maybe the Angels were going to showcase him for a trade?  Who knows but the point appears to be moot now that McPherson's back has flared up and has delayed his call-up.

The Indians have an awkward situation as well.  They want to call up third baseman Andy Marte to finish out the season.  The problem is that they currently have Aaron Boone there.  Boone has been surprisingly terrible this year, posting near career lows on offense while committing 15 errors in just 89 games.  By comparison, ARod, who's practically being run out of New York due to his defense, has just three more in 93 games.  Anyway, it's clearly a down year for Boone.  One might think with the trade deadline approaching and several contending teams in fairly desperate need of third base upgrades - the Padres and Dodgers immediately come to mind - that the Indians would showcase Boone as much as possible so that they might trade him and get something back.  Even if he didn't play well, scouts might have a chance to observe if his troubles are possibly due to some subtle mechanical flaw.  Another possibility is with the regular playing time Boone might even be able to work himself out of this slump.  However, manager Eric Wedge feels that it's best to frequently sit Boone where his value has no chance of increasing, and instead regularly play Ramon Vazquez, who has the distinction of having the most anemic bat on the team for anyone with more than 20 at bats this season.  In fact, Vazquez bat this season has been only marginally more potent than pitcher Paul Byrd's.  It's an interesting strategy - don't let buyers see the product - so we'll see how it eventually pans out.

I wrote in my book that I thought Jhonny Peralta would eventually develop into a very good fielding shortstop.  I was wrong.  Like Chris Gomez, he does a very good job of turning balls he can get to into outs.  But after watching him for a number of games this year it's pretty clear that his range is pretty bad, particularly up the middle.  Teams that are looking to the Indians for a third baseman might be better off trading for Peralta and moving him than dealing for Boone. 

Going back to ARod for a second, maybe the Nationals should trade him and Felipe Lopez to the Yankees for ARod.  Yeah, it's crazy, I know.  But the Yankees have Eric Duncan who can play third base and if he's not ready right now they could move Cairo to third in the meantime with Lopez at second and Soriano in the outfield.  Maybe Lopez could handle third base.  Who knows.  That's not really the point.  

The Nats already have a third baseman, but the best shortstop on the Yankees right now currently plays third base.  ARod was/is a very good defensive shortstop and having him at short in DC solves a number of problems with the current team, mainly defense and offense.  There're still four more years left on his deal and maybe Bowden could convince Cashman to pick up a small portion in exchange for the inexpensive Lopez.  I know it doesn't work perfectly, but I'm just trying to think outside the box.  Steve Phillips is absolutely right when he says that ARod needs a new scene.  When a player gets booed the year after he wins an MVP despite the fact that he's got the best offensive numbers on the team and has played gold glove defense for the past two years, it's time to move to a different city.  Let New Yorkers have Jeter, who wouldn't have won four rings without Rivera and a tremedously talented (and expensive) Yankees roster.  Some might even argue they won despite Jeter's defense at short.  Let ARod go to a city that might appreciate his politically-correct politicking for the media.  They most certainly will love his bat and glove.

Here's something to think about - Barry Bonds has 14 homers this year.  At this rate, he'll finish the season with 21 or 22 homers.  That would still leave him 25 homers short of tying Hank Aaron, meaning that even if some team does decide to take a chance on him next year there wouldn't be any guarantee that he'd break the record in 2007.  Which means that any team that signs him thinking they'd get a bump in ticket sales from the home run race will have to do so with the knowledge that there's a possibility that it will take two years.  Bonds' trainer will probably be going to prison for contempt of court by the end of this week, a term that could last as long as 18 months.  The only way he's going to avoid a full-term is to testify, which in all likelihood would put Bonds on trial.  Is there any team that thinks the benefit of an already jaded home run pursuit is worth the cost of that kind of negative fan/media attention for two years?  Bonds is already vociferously booed at every ballpark outside the Bay Area.  It seems very likely that his career is done after this season, whether he likes it or not.  Aaron's record will be broken, but it will be done by a guy who has gone largely under-appreciated for his entire career.  And he's going to break it in the summer of 2014.  It just won't be in a Yankees uniform while playing third base. 

I wanted to conclude with a little fantasy baseball note.  I know it's a different year and each year has it's own shape but just because it's the end of July does not mean by any stretch that the standings are now what they will be come October.  For instance, in 2004 in an AL-only league, I had a team make up on the category leaders 20 home runs, 53 runs, 21 wins, 89 strikeouts, 0.97 in ERA and 0.04 in WHIP over the final two months of the season without making any significant changes to the roster.  It was all due to guys finally performing to expectations.   In many leagues a team that makes those kinds of gains in even one of those categories will advance several points in the standings.  If you have players who have severely underachieved to this point, like Mark Teixeira for example, it's not far fetched that your team can make up huge deficits as those players return to their normal career levels.  Likewise, teams that have lots of players having career years to this point will fall back.  Even with just two months left, there's still time to be patient.