Maddon departure reeks of sinking ship syndrome

I wrote this when news broke that Joe Maddon was leaving the Rays, but never published it. With today’s news he’s joining the Cubs, some of the points seem appropriate.

Say what you will about John Gibbons, the Blue Jays’ managerial situation should not be anywhere close to a top priority to address this offseason.

And even if it were, I’d be hesitant to go tunnel vision on Joe Maddon.

With the news today that he’s opting out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, many are jumping on the “replace Gibbons with Maddon” bandwagon. Maddon is clearly a superior manager, they say, and can only help the Jays in 2015, given their clearly inferior skipper, the aforementioned Gibbons.

First off, one more time, let’s ease off on the credit we give managers. The extent to which they “rally the troops” and “inspire the team” is overblown all the time. The fluidity with which managers rise and fall, only to rise again, is a testament that they really can’t have a huge hand in how a season plays out. Whatever influence they do have is something us lowly fans can’t even begin to measure. We can look at the actual in-game moves made, which most would argue old Gibbers does quite well, but all the inspirovational crap is something to which we literally have zero knowledge.

So the vast implications that Joe Maddon is “clearly superior” to John Gibbons is ridiculous.

In fact, I’d argue the measure of a manager isn’t his success improving a team, but his ability to hitch his post, so to speak, to an organization heading in the right direction. Everyone’s favourite Tony LaRussa did quite well to get in with the Athletics just as they were coming into form. He had some success, the success started to wane, and he was gone. He then went to St. Louis, a franchise most would agree is among the most well-run organizations in baseball. He, unsurprisingly, had success there.

Toronto’s own Cito Gaston had the good fortune to come on as manager when the Jays were becoming a force. He also had the good fortune of having a front office and ownership willing to go all out and give him every tool imaginable to put together a winning lineup.

And so it appears, this is what Maddon has done. He went to Tampa when the team still stunk, but when they were putting together a vaunted farm system with numerous top picks. It was little surprise when the team did break out, not because Maddon did something wonderful, but because it was only a matter of time before those draft picks turned into productive players.

Maddon reaped the benefits, and the team succeeded. But with success came the loss of No. 1 draft picks, making it more difficult to draft that super high end talent. And with a lack of financials resources that high end talent eventually left for greener pastures (well, mostly traded, but you get the point). The cracks began to show this year as the team struggled to its worst showing it first broke out.

This reeks to me of abandoning a sinking ship. It began with Andrew Friedman and has continued with Joe Maddon. I think both have realized that their stock is never going to be higher. Friedman is likely quite a good GM, but in past years many have ascribed God-status to him. However, he was largely the beneficiary of a decade of ineptitude. No matter how good a GM he was, it’s only a matter of time before Tampa receded back toward the bottom of the league.

With Maddon, I think it’s the same thing. He realizes this era is over or quickly coming to an end. What’s the point of waiting around and showing the league that you don’t actually have magical powers that turn shitty players into Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan?

I don’t blame either one. They both, in their own ways, helped contribute to an unbelievable era of success in Tampa Bay.

However, I think the actions of these two, especially Maddon, underline precisely how little they impact things in the grand scheme of things. In the end a GM’s success comes down heavily to ownership’s willingness to spend and spend properly (not just on big league talent, but in scouting, analytics, development etc.), and the manager’s success comes down to the players he manages. Both Friedman and Maddon realized that, and with perpetually limited funds and a decreasing talent pool, both are heading for greener pastures.

The strike zone is getting really, really big

HardballTalk

In the 90s there was a lot of talk about the strike zone expanding to the right and left, especially for pitchers like Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux who could consistently hit points outside of the zone and convince umpires to give them those calls as a result of that consistency.

But overall, the zone was a lot smaller then. The offensive numbers certainly bear that out as both the high strike and the low strike all but disappeared and hitters could crush anyone who couldn’t paint those corners (or just outside those corners) like Glavine and Maddux.

The wide zone doesn’t exist now like it used to. Most attribute that to Pitchf/x, which Major League Baseball has used to grade umpires over the years. They’ve been called out on that leniency and have called a more accurate zone, laterally speaking.

But boy howdy, it has grown vertically. As Jon…

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Could Toronto’s solutions come from the west?

We’re right smack dab in that weird part of the year. As baseball fans we’re being treated to awesome postseason baseball (though my teams all seems to be losing), but as Toronto fans we’re kind of eager to get things going with this offseason.

A post today at MLBTR (http://bit.ly/1vb5t8K) points us to some news and rumours out of the west. And they’re worthwhile to examine because they could provide interesting options for the Jays.

The first comes from Seattle, where GM Jack Zryduniecescsyzk (or however the hell you spell it. Makes me happy we just have to deal with the Greek name Anthopolopoloupolos) went out and said some stupid stuff to the media about outfielder – and Canadian! – Michael Saunders. There’s speculation the relationship is strained, and Saunders could see himself out the door.

In recent weeks I’ve become more of the belief that the Jays should maybe focus the majority of whatever financial flexibility the team has on addressing the infield. With three players who could potentially man centre field on the cheap, AA could potentially build a fairly cheap outfield. That helps when considering the dearth of infield options out there. A few extra dollars could go a long way.

And while Saunders has been somewhat disappointing, he’s a former top prospect, still only 27 years old, and when on the field he’s been decent. He was worth nearly 2 WAR by Fangraphs this year in limited time. Over the past three years he’s hit to the tune of a 109 wRC+ and the defensive metrics seem to like him. And with some upside there, at the perfect time where players sometimes take that big leap forward, he’s worth the risk that his injury and illness problems follow him east. But hey, at least we have free health care if he does get hurt in Toronto!

Elsewhere, there’s talk from Arizona of trading one of their young infielders, Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings or Nick Ahmed. All are young, which provides both risk in the fact they may not pan out but also potential in acquiring an important piece that will be under team control for years. And according to the piece they could be had for young pitching, a mild strength of the Jays.

Acquiring one of the trio could have the Jays go the other way, finding a cheap fix in the infield and spending big on the outfield (presumably resigning Melky).

I could live with either of those options. Stroman or Sanchez seems too much, but could Norris get it done?

Now, lets get back to enjoying real baseball.

Picking up a first baseman to solve second base

I like Adam Lind. Really, I do. He’s a fantastic hitter and his somewhat aloof personality (at least what we can glean from the brief interactions we have with him through interviews) is somewhat refreshing to the usual robot responses from professional athletes.

And as one of the longest serving Blue Jays there’s a certain soft spot for the Man from Muncie.

So with all that said, the next part doesn’t come terribly easy.

They should look to trade him.

With two holes in the outfield, one in the infield and a bullpen to rework, the Jays have a fair amount to do this offseason. It’s hard to imagine there’s a lot of money to go around. I took Paul Beeston’s recent comments (http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/beeston-blue-jays-expect-payroll-to-rise-in-2015) with a more optimistic view than most. To me, the fact he “expects to spend more than $135-137 million on its roster” next year is a good sign. Unlike last year, putting an actual number out there isn’t the vague doublespeak we’re used to.

Still, though, it’s hard to imagine they have enough money to solve everything through free agency.

And that’s where Lind comes in. He’s got a ton of value based on the fact he’s one of the best hitters in baseball against right handed pitching (third best wRC+ versus right handed pitching this year, minimum 250 PA). His option is also a paltry $7.5 million. Sure he has warts, injury problems and a complete inability to hit left handed pitching among them. And really, both him and Edwin Encarnacion should primarily be designated hitters.

Given the choice between EE and Lind, it’s pretty obvious who you take.

I would think Lind could be the centerpiece of a deal to acquire an infielder or outfielder, and shedding his 2015 salary could go a long way. It just seems like a better way to distribute those dollars.

Besides, there are potential options at first base. You could keep EE there and go with a DH-by-committee. With some aging position players that’s not a terrible idea.

There’s also Daric Barton, who recently became a free agent. Barton shouldn’t cost much, the defensive metrics like him, and his minor league numbers are strong. He’s maintained a strong walk rate, good on base skills, and not terrible power. Sure, he’s a few years removed from his last really good year in the big leagues, but it almost appears like he just hasn’t been given the opportunity.

Or there’s Yozzen Cuesta, the Cuban first baseman who defected last year – while in a tournament in Canada! – and is eligible to sign with a MLB team. I couldn’t find any information on him, save for this, which is good enough for me: http://www.theootpelite.com/toe/reports/players/player_46991.html.

Let’s make this a campaign for Rogers

Do you think Sportsnet would go for this kind of a broadcast next year? I think I’d take that awesome 1920s music before Buck and Tabby. The cuts to explain what was happening could just be things like “So big and Sccchtroong”, “They’re all ball players”, and of course “Edwin Encarnasheeeyown!”
Might save them enough money to resign Melky.
Do it Rogers!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2014/10/02/watch-rare-footage-of-the-senators-beating-the-giants-in-the-1924-world-series/