1. With Alex Anthopoulos stating this week that manager John Gibbons will return for the 2014 season, the usual first off-season move has been made. This begs the question – should Anthopoulos be getting a similar vote of confidence from the team – does he deserve one?
When you get hired to work as a manager or general manager you know you're hired to get fired. Very rarely does either get to go out on their own terms.
It is far more common that managers get votes of confidence. When a manager gets a vote of confidence from an owner or GM it is far more about the players than the manager. A vote of confidence tells players that their direct boss is not only here today but he is here for the future as well. It gives the manager power and the support he needs with a struggling team. It provides the juice he needs to hold players accountable.
I learned the hard way that players don't really care when a GM gets fired. General managers don't impact players everyday like a manager. We don't write the lineup or batting order. We don't make pitching changes. Players truly only care about the GM for the week every year when contracts are being negotiated.
So any vote of confidence that a general manager gets is usually just to pacify the media's curiosity about whether a general manager will be back. Sure the same can be said for a manager, but it is not the primary reason.
Alex Anthopoulos deserves to be back next year. Any GM who wins the off-season in acquisitions deserves to return regardless of the result. Many of us thought the moves he made were going to allow the Jays to win the division. The fact that some of the good players didn't play well isn't Anthopoulos' fault. Sometimes "Stink Happens."
Now if things don't turn around next year, then both Anthopoulos and Gibbons could be in trouble. It is a game of results. Fairness and understanding exist after one disappointing season with a certain roster, but typically not two. It is the nature of the beast.
2. The Pittsburgh Pirates added Marlon Byrd and John Buck by trade earlier in the week. Now that all the moves have been made – which GM gets the best grade for his work this season?
There has been some extraordinary work done by general managers this year. I know how difficult a job it is to put together a winning team. GMs should get credit for all of the player moves they make during the season and credit for the ones they didn't make as well. Sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don't. Sometimes keeping a young player in the big leagues instead of sending him down to the minors turns out to be a brilliant move, but no one gives the GM credit.
Neil Huntington finally found the right formula in Pittsburgh while never making the biggest splashiest move. He signed pitcher Francisco Liriano as a free-agent that has proven to be his best move. Huntington is in a division with two of baseball's best GMs John Mozeliak in St Louis and Walt Jocketty in Cincinnati, both of whom have also had great years.
Ned Colletti the GM of the Dodgers deserves credit for some of the big moves he made last year, acquiring Hanley Ramirez from Miami and Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford from Boston. During the season, Colletti has shown great patience for a team that struggled early. He got Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins well before the trade deadline and sent a message to his team that he still believed in them. They responded.
Frank Wren In Atlanta has his team primed for the playoffs once again. His free agent signing of BJ Upton has been a bust, but most every other move has allowed them to stay atop the division. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. When Wren made a trade in the off-season for Justin Upton he was hoping to get a premium young outfielder. Upton has been pretty good but a throw in player in the deal, Chris Johnson, has been a steal as he is second in the NL in hitting.
Billy Beane was the 2012 Sporting News Executive of the Year for his surprising young A's team. Once again he is doing a fine job helping his team keep pace with Jon Daniels' Texas Rangers. Daniels has been able to weather some pretty significant losses because of free agency, trades or injuries over the past year: Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis and Nelson Cruz. When you look at that list of names, it is amazing the Rangers are still on top of the AL West.
Dave Dombrowski in Detroit is one of the game's best GMs. His trade deadline deal to acquire shortstop Jose Iglesias in anticipation of the suspension of Jhonny Peralta was brilliant.
The Tampa Bay Rays continue to amaze the baseball world competing with the big boys on a tight budget. Andrew Friedman is the best at finding a reclamation project. This year they have gotten more out of James Loney than anyone could have imagined. Freidman also oversees the growth and development of a tremendous feeder farm system.
But of all of the great work that has been done this year, the best work has come from Ben Cherington of the Boston Red Sox. Cherington's reconstruction started last season when he purged his roster sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to LA. This freed up roster space and money to reconstruct his roster. There are currently 10 players on the Red Sox roster that weren't in their organization a year ago. The big three-team deal to land Jake Peavy at the deadline has rounded out their rotation and set them up to be a tough matchup in the playoffs.
One of Cherington's best moves was bringing John Farrell back to Boston to manage the team. It may be difficult or confusing for Jays fans to hear that, but it is true. More than anything, the Red Sox needed to get their pitching staff fixed. Farrell had a pre-existing relationship with Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester and both of them returned to form. He has managed his roster of "baseball players" and non-superstars extremely well. He has been a calming influence after a year of chaos with Bobby Valentine.
Cherington is my Executive of the Year!
3. Which team currently NOT in the playoffs has the best chance of making a run and getting in?
I believe the National League playoff teams are set. The Braves and Dodgers are going to win their division. In the Central, three teams will make the playoffs: Pirates, Cards and Reds. The only thing left to be determined is who will be the division winner and which two teams will be the Wild Card contenders. I actually think when it is all said and done, the Reds are winning the division. The Dodgers are winning the West and won't be challenged.
In the American League, Detroit is in. They will win the Central. Even if Miguel Cabrera needs a couple weeks off to heal his aching body, I believe Detroit's pitching can sustain them.
Boston will most likely win the AL East, but if they falter they will still get in as a Wild Card. The same can be said of the amazing Texas Rangers, who never seem to doubt themselves. Credit manager Ron Washington with keeping the attitude right there.
As we currently stand Oakland and Tampa Bay are the Wild Card entrees. So the question becomes can Baltimore (3.5 gb), New York (5.0 gb) or Cleveland (4.0gb) make a run and get in?
Baltimore has had another surprising season. I never think they have enough pitching to complete but they find ways to win with just enough pitching and a high-powered offense that can strike at anytime.
I thought there was a good chance the Yankees would finish in last place this year. Joe Girardi has gotten a ton out of the retreads that Brian Cashman has been able to piece together. Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Mark Reynolds were in baseball's witness protection program before the Yankees found them. We hadn't heard from them in years. You can never count out a team with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.
The Indians have been rebuilding for a few years and finally seem to be getting it together. The hiring of Terry Francona was brilliant. He is a season changer. He gets the most out of a roster and does it with class and dignity. They are a young team that is starting to believe in themselves. When the season started I liked what they had done with their position players but thought they were short on pitching.
So of these three teams, the one with the best chance of making a run is the Cleveland Indians.
They have the easiest schedule of the three and over the last month they will be playing most AL Central foes and not the tougher AL East teams. While the Yanks and Orioles will be beating each other up for seven games and then facing the Rays and Red Sox for another 10 games combined, the Indians will be facing the Twins and White Sox.
Since the All-Star break, the Indians have the second best pitching in the AL. The young arms are learning quickly and Ubaldo Jiminez is returning to the form of his days in Colorado.
Plus don't underestimate the Terry Francona factor. He has been in these races before and he has gotten these youngsters to believe in themselves even when no one else has.
I don't think it will happen, but if the Indians make the playoffs I won't be shocked.
Fair or Foul
The New York Mets received horrific news this week that their ace young pitcher Matt Harvey has a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. You got it. That is the injury that more often than not leads to Tommy John surgery. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Remember Stephen Strasburg.
The Mets had been talking about protecting Harvey over the last month of the season. They obviously started protecting him too late. Pitchers can be injured in a number of ways but more often than not they get hurt because of poor mechanics or overuse.
Harvey isn't Stephen Strasburg. The young Mets right-hander has much better throwing action than does Strasburg. Every once in a while Harvey recoils, which means his arm snaps back up after the ball is released rather than decelerating in an easy manner toward the ground. But for the most part he has pretty pure mechanics. So that is not likely the cause of his injury.
One of the major things teams have to guard against with young pitchers is overuse. Significant increases in innings from one year to the next can be dangerous. History has shown that overuse can lead to the arm breaking down.
Everyone seems in shock over Harvey's injury because he has only thrown 178 innings this year compared to 169 a year ago between the majors and minors. "Certainly overuse isn't the cause.", pundits are saying. Really?
Overuse isn't just about how many innings a pitcher throws; it is also about how he accumulates those innings. Harvey only threw 178 innings, just nine more than last season but he had accumulated the innings in a six-week shorter period of time. He was on pace for somewhere between 210 and 220 innings. That is almost 50 more than a year ago. That is a close to a 30 percent increase.
Overuse can also be about how many a pitches a hurler is allowed to throw. It is not just about the total number; it is also about how compacted those pitches are in an outing. I believe that once a pitcher gets to 15 pitches in an inning he starts to become physically vulnerable. He starts to wear down. The ability to command and locate pitches decreases as well as overall effectiveness after 15 pitches in an inning. The reason for this is that fibers in the arm tear every time a pitcher throws the ball. It causes bleeding. The more one throws without recovering the more breakdown occurs.
A 100-pitch outing spread out over seven innings is much gentler on the arm than 100 pitches over five innings. It is the same number of pitches but because they are thrown in a more compacted period without rest, the arm becomes vulnerable to injury. Harvey threw over 100 pitches in 18 of his 26 games started. He threw 110 or more pitches in half of his starts. Over a five-start period from his last outing in June through the month of July, Harvey threw 551 pitches, an average of 110 per start.
Harvey admitted he had been pitching with right forearm tightness for most of the season and had been receiving treatment. Sure he was pitching well with it, but when the arm is compromised with pain and inflammation, it is even more prone to further injury.
Maybe Matt Harvey's injury is just a fluke but we can't dismiss the facts that he had tightness in his forearm and was on pace to throw significantly more innings than he ever had before.
A young ace is worth $23M. That is the going rate for a #1 starter. Harvey's salary was just $498,750 for the year. Teams need to do everything they can to protect their young studs. Players get six years of Major League service before they become free-agents. Although it hasn't been decided that Harvey will have Tommy John surgery just yet it is likely he will need it at some point. My experience is that rest and rehab will not heal a tear to the ulnar collateral ligament. It is highly likely they are only postponing the inevitable surgery. Harvey will likely spend one year of his limited service time on the disabled list.
Could this injury have been averted? Would fewer innings or pitches have kept him healthy? Would resting him until the tightness in his forearm passed have protected the ligament in his elbow? We will never know. But as salaries for ace pitcher continue to rise teams are going to have to consider new ways to keep their pitchers on the field.