The topics include the future of the Texas Rangers, the Braves' handling of Dan Uggla, Steve's playoff predictions and the future of some managers.
1. With the Texas Rangers missing out on the playoffs after losing a play-in-game against the Rays, do you think their World Series window closed?
The Texas Rangers went to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011, coming up short both times. In 2012, they were a Wild Card entrant in the playoffs, but were eliminated by the Orioles. In 2013, they played a 163rd game to try and make the playoffs, but lost to the Rays who have since advanced to the ALDS against the Red Sox. It has been a great run. They have won 90 or more games over four consecutive years.
With their elimination this year, it is not unfair to consider whether their window of winning a World Series might be closing. I don't believe that it is closing, though. In fact, I think they are far from it. This team will be competitive for years to come.
Consider all that went wrong this year: Josh Hamilton signed with Angels in the offseason; they traded Michael Young to the Phillies; Starting pitchers Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis spent
the season on the DL ; Alexi Ogando, Michael Kirkman, Joakim Soria and even ace pitcher Yu Darvish missed time too; the Rangers used 11 different starting pitchers; AJ Pierszynski and Ian Kinsler spent time on the DL, as did Mitch Moreland and Lance Berkman and they lost Nelson Cruz to a 50-game suspension.
How in the world did the Rangers win 91 games? If I had told you that so much would go wrong before the season, you might not think they would even finish over .500.
Manager Ron Washington keeps the pedal to the metal. He is not the best in-game manager, but he keeps his team focus and motivated. They never feel like victims, even when so much goes wrong.
This Rangers team isn't going anywhere. They have key, core members under contract for next year and beyond. SS Elvis Andrus and 2B Ian Kinsler are both locked up contractually for years to come and they have a blue chip young prospect in Jurickson Profar to bolster their depth. Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios will be back in the middle of the lineup, as well. With Yu Darvish leading the rotation that will include Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Martin Perez, their starting pitching will be very competitive. Closer Joe Nathan will be back, as well. On top of this, they have a well-stocked farm system to help feed the majors with more quality talent.
The Rangers can use another bat in the lineup and maybe another starter, but I absolutely expect them to be back in 2014 with a very competitive team and a legitimate shot of getting back to the World Series.
2. After hitting .179 with 22 home runs this season, the Atlanta Braves left their highest paid player Dan Uggla off their NLDS playoff roster. Uggla has two years and $26 million left on his contract. Was the playoff omission the right move and is there a way for both sides to salvage this situation?
It is always difficult on a manager and general manager when a player in the midst of a mega-contract loses his skills and production.
During the regular season, a manager will try all the tricks to try and get him going. The player will take extra batting practice. Then, he may get a few days off to clear his head and flush out all of the negative thoughts. The manager may move a struggling player around in the line-up, hoping to put him in a spot where he will get good pitches to hit. A player may also get examined by a doctor to see if there is any physical problem causing his struggles. Sometimes a player will accept a short trip to the minor leagues to get a fresh start and work on making adjustments.
Organizations have to try and get a return on their investment. Players are not disposable. If a player has a big contract, you can't just release him. No one would ever flush $26M down the toilet.
So the Atlanta Braves tried everything this year with Dan Uggla. He is hitting .179/.309/.362 with a career-worst 31.8 percent strikeout rate. It was so bad this year that the Braves sent him to get LASIK eye surgery. The bigger problem is that he hit worse after the surgery.
When it comes playoff time, it is not about contracts or feelings: It is about winning. The Braves made the right decision leaving Uggla off of their playoff roster. He may be disappointed but that's just too bad. He should be offended by his performance not the team.
Moving forward the only thing that will salvage the relationship between Uggla and the Braves is if he starts to hit. If he doesn't hit, then the club will be faced with a final decision for Uggla and his career. It's that simple.
3. Now that the playoffs are set, which teams do you think will advance to the World Series and why?
LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
This is an interesting match-up. It pits the team with the best starting pitching ERA in the Dodgers against the team with the best bullpen ERA in the Braves. Both offenses can score runs in bunches.
The Braves are big swingers, proven by the facts that they led the NL in strikeouts and home runs. The Dodgers do it with a bit more contact. Give me the team with the better starting pitchers. Dodgers win in 5 games.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have been an amazing story. They finally made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. They are made up of one superstar (Andrew McCutchen) and a bunch of gritty, tough baseball players. But after losing Game 1 by a score of 9-1, it feels like they don't belong.
Cardinals win series 3-0.
Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
This is a great match-up with two AL East rivals. The Rays are one of the rare teams that can overcome multiple elimination games and still have a shot to win the next series. Their depth of starting pitching is a strength. They can win on any given night. That being said, the Red Sox can match them starter-for-starter, plus the Sox have a much more formidable offense. Sox win in 5 games.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A's
The Tigers have the names we all know. They have former MVP Miguel Cabrera and former Cy Young-winner Justin Verlander. The Tigers are led by a tough and gruff manager in Jim Leyland who desperately wants to win for owner Mike Illitch. The A's are managed by the unassuming Bob Melvin and are a bunch of no- names. However, they can pitch and hit and catch the ball. This will be a closely played series with the Tigers winning in 5 games.
St Louis Cardinals vs. LA Dodgers
This will be a battle of the two best NL teams. Both teams have legitimate aces in Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Both teams have the ability to mix and match out of the bullpen. The Cardinals
were the game's best at hitting with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers can score in many different ways as well. They can slug the ball out of the ballpark or win the game with good base-running. The Dodgers will win this series in 7 games.
Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox
This is a battle of big arms and big bats. The teams were part of a big thre- team deal at the deadline that sent starter Jake Peavy to the Sox and shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers. If the games turn into
pitching duels, they match up well and, if it were a slugfest, they can stand
toe-to-toe, as well. This will be a seven game series that can go either way. The Red Sox will prevail as the Tigers bullpen blows a game. Red Sox in 7 games.
Boston Red Sox vs. LA Dodgers
What an amazing match-up. These two teams helped set the course for each other to get to this point with their big trade a year ago. The Dodgers took Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick
Punto off the Sox hands, including about a quarter million dollars of their salaries. This allowed the Sox to quickly reconstruct their team. In the meantime, Crawford, Gonzalez and Punto found their games
again and have been contributors to the Dodgers' success. Both teams
remade their bullpens over the course of the season. Both added starting pitchers, as well. Their managers and general managers have excelled all season long. The Red Sox win the series in 7 games.
Fair or Foul
This is the time of year that managers can lose their jobs. We all understand when we get hired in baseball that we will likely be fired someday, too. It is the nature of the beast.
Every situation is different and unique to each organization.
Sometimes a manager who has been with a club for a long time gets let go, regardless how much success he has had in the past. We saw that this season with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. He had managed the Phils for nine years. He won a World Series in 2009, but the team wasn't winning now and it just felt like it was time for a change. He didn't do anything wrong. He isn't a worse manager now than he was in 2009. It was just time.
Dale Sveum was fired in Chicago. He had been hired to oversee the growth and development of young players in the majors. The Cubs are rebuilding and they wanted a development manager to teach their
prospects how to win in the majors. They only won 61 and 66 games in his two years. There wasn't a lot of winning being taught or learned.
Davey Johnson is stepping down in Washington from his role as manager, but that was predestined even before the season. He will serve as a consultant to the organization moving forward. Luckily for Johnson, this was predetermined because he would have been fired. The Nats underachieved significantly this year.
Dusty Baker was fired on Friday despite leading the Reds to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and three of the last four years. Sure, they didn't advance beyond the League Division Series in any of those years, but it certainly wasn't because Dusty mismanaged the games. I mean, come on - He has led all three franchises he has managed to the playoffs. He is a two-time manager of the year while with the Giants. He finished second in the voting last season. It is pretty clear he is a quality manager, but the Reds want something more.
Eric Wedge isn't returning to the Mariners despite the team actually wanting him to return. He cited a difference in the direction of the organization. It is a bit unclear what that means, as typically most organizations want to head in the direction of winning. I am kidding, of course. Often times, that is code for the team doesn't want to spend money on players and the manager thinks they should.
There was plenty of speculation that Mike Scioscia was in jeopardy in Anaheim. Despite big off-season acquisitions and unfulfilled huge expectations, Scioscia remains with the Angels. He fits the Charlie
It was speculated that since the Rangers didn't make the playoffs after losing to the Rays in the tie-breaker game that Ron Washington was in trouble. He is similar to Dusty Baker. He made the playoffs in three of four years, twice advancing to the World Series. Fortunately, he hasn't lost his job.
It was unclear whether the Mets would ask Terry Collins back to manage for a fourth year, as this large market team hasn't been over .500 during his tenure. Collins is like Dale Sveum in results, but was able
to keep his job where the Cub manager lost his.
It is a bit odd that in one off-season we will be replacing five managers for such a wide variety of reasons. Yet we can fit many other managers into the same categories who kept their jobs.
So why do some managers get fired while others don't when their results
may be the same?
It is all about time and place. Each team is in a certain time and place in its history. Where they are determines the expectations on the field and, therefore, the expectations for the manager. These expectations are the key to survival or termination.
Some clubs are rebuilding. Within that definition of rebuilding, there are a variety of directions. A team may be disassembling and moving one step back to take two steps forward. Other teams are just going to give young prospects opportunities and hope they figure it out in the majors. Some clubs have already figured out which young players are ready to produce and are looking to add veterans to go with them.
Teams that are believed to be pennant contenders automatically have a high level of expectations. The higher the expectations, the less margin for failure. The lower the expectations, the less distasteful
losing may be. If the fans are disappointed, then a manager is in trouble.
Here is the reality though: Good managers are made by good players. I am not saying all managers are created equal because they are not. I believe certain managers can impact certain individuals and teams in a more dramatic way than another.
Tony LaRussa impacted the outcome of more games than any manager I have ever seen with his in-game decisions and moves. Jim Leyland's players speak in "Leylandisms." His words impact his guys. So a good manager makes a difference.
But I also believe that each manager fired could still win a championship with the team that fired him if they game him more time and better players. Managers learn from their mistakes. They learn
more about their players and how to best utilize them in situations to succeed.
So I understand this is what we do in baseball. If we don't win, we fire the manager because you can't fire all of the players. I would sure love to see teams just ride it out with their leaders believing that, at some point, they will find the right formula. Change isn't always good or necessary!