TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers several questions each week. This week's topics include the Blue Jays' handling of Adam Lind's injury, the A's and Cubs trade, biggest surprises and disappointments, and Brian McCann in New York.
1) Toronto Blue Jays DH Adam Lind is out for six-to-eight weeks after being diagnosed with a fracture in his right foot. He was originally hurt on June 14th and the injury was diagnosed by the club as a deep bruise following a CT scan. What, if anything, does this say about how the Blue Jays handled his injury?
Things like this happen. It is embarrassing for an organization though when it does. It is particularly embarrassing to the medical department of the team. The team's head physician has some questions to answer.
As a general manager, I became a doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist, accountant and motivational speaker depending upon the situation. That being said, general managers are only doctors in so far as they understand what happens with baseball injuries. Only the team physician is qualified to diagnose injuries. Only the doctor writes up the prescription for diagnostic tests. General managers can play devil's advocate and challenge a doctor's thinking but that is it.
Clearly the doctor struck out on this one. Lind did what players do; they play with pain. Players are taught to learn the difference between pain and injury. When the pain didn't go away, Lind realized he might be dealing with an injury. Actually, it was Lind's mom who finally pushed him to request an MRI.
I am not sure why an MRI is not part of the immediate diagnostic protocol for contusion injuries like this. It should be and probably will be from now on. Too many mistakes like this and the Jays may have to consider a new team doctor even for someone who has been around for a long time.
Remember, mother knows best!
2) Late last week, the Oakland A's beat the rush and acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for their top prospect Addison Russell and two other prospects. What did you make of not only the timing of the deal, but also what each team got?
I have always been a firm believer that teams in the playoff hunt should go for it when they have the chance. The Oakland A's went for it in a big way with this deal. The A's were the best team in the game before the trade and this further reinforced that position.
One of the big knocks against Billy Beane, A's General Manager, is that his teams have been good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to win once they are there. In other words, they were built to win over 162 games but lacked the impact to win in a short series.
With the acquisition of Samardzija and Hammel the A's added the kind of starting pitching that gives them a much better shot of getting to the playoffs and winning games when they are there.
Beane gave up an extraordinary talent in Addison Russell. It was the right thing to do. Prospects get general managers fired. When I had a chance to win I gave up whatever prospect I needed in order to land players that would help me win now. For every prospect that fulfills his ultimate potential, there are 20 who do not. Even if the prospect that is traded becomes a great player the time value of the veteran player to help a team win now is worth it.
Teams that win World Series take calculated risks in order to win. They sign a big free agent. They make a trade. They give up a top prospect to get the final piece to the puzzle.
When I made the tough decision to fire coaches from under my manager, Bobby Valentine, it worked. My owner said it was a $30 million decision. We ended up going to the playoffs and then to the NLCS. We didn't make $30 million but the swing was that significant. If we had fallen apart that year we would have sold fewer tickets that season and it would have negatively impacted ticket and sponsorship sales the next year too. Instead, making the playoffs allowed more ticket sales that season. It included money made while in the playoffs and it generated excitement for the sale of tickets the following season.
The Cubs made a great trade. So many times when teams are sellers at the deadline they try to acquire talent to fit a particular role. Theo Epstein, Cubs GM, didn't do that. He acquired the best possible talent regardless of the role. Russell is an exciting blue chip shortstop prospect. The Cubs already have young veteran Starling Castro and top prospect, Javier Baez, in the organization. The Cubs can't win with three shortstops but Epstein understands that he can turn one of them into whatever he wants.
This was a win-win deal for both sides. The A's are going to win more now but the Cubs will be winners soon enough too.
3) With the All-Star Break nearly upon us, which player or teams have been the biggest surprise to you, and which have been the biggest disappointments?
As we head into the All-Star break, my most pleasant surprise is the Milwaukee Brewers. I actually thought they would be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot this year but they have been even better than expected. Manager Ron Roenicke made a bold move when he replaced his closer a day before the season. Francisco Rodriguez has been nearly perfect. The Brewers are winning the games they are supposed to win.
The starting rotation has been consistently effective and gives them a chance to win every night. Offensively, they have a deep and productive lineup. They are second in the NL in runs scored. The Brewers have five players with double-digit home runs and five with 40+ RBI.
With the injury to Cards' catcher Yadier Molina and the numerous other injuries, the Cards may be done. Plus the Cardinals have struggled offensively. In 2013 they hit .330 with runners in scoring position while this year they are only hitting .246 in similar situations. The Reds have been bitten by the injury bug as well as they lost Brandon Phillips in a similar way that the Cards lost Molina. Homer Bailey has struggled this year and he left yesterday's game with an apparent knee injury. They had significant lost time from Matt Latos and Aroldis Chapman, while Jay Bruce and others have underperformed. The Pirates look a bit like the Pirates again.
Everything seems to be going in the Brewers favor. It is their division to lose.
The biggest disappointment is the Boston Red Sox. It is always difficult to repeat but I did not anticipate a last place finish. This team resembles the Bobby Valentine team from 2012.
The team that won the World Series a year ago led the AL in runs scored by a significant margin (+59 on next closest team). This year's team has scored the fewest runs in the league. Certainly they miss Jacoby Ellsbury, but this much? The Sox last year stole 123 bases and were caught only 19 times. So far this year they have stolen only 28 bases while being caught 19 times. The 2013 World Series champs hit 178 home runs while this year's version is on pace for 116 homers.
So no power and no speed equals no winning. I don't anticipate this Sox team to make the kind of run necessary to get back in the playoff hunt. John Lester and Clay Buchholz aren't nearly the pitchers they were a year ago.
The Red Sox are going to be sellers this year, not buyers.
4) This past week, Atlanta Braves hitting coach Terry Pendelton said, “New York is not Brian (McCann). That's my opinion. I knew if he chose New York, there would be more than he expected or knew about. He'll never be comfortable with that …” He obviously doesn't think that Brian McCann has the temperament necessary to handle New York. Pendelton may be right. Not everyone can handle the game in New York, it is a different market than any other city. There are more beat writers and columnist and bloggers in NY than anywhere else. The talk radio is vicious when things are going well. Can you imagine how bad it can be when things are going poorly?
McCann is an easy-going southern boy from just outside of Atlanta. He has the kind of background that New York can chew up and spit out.
One of the most significant challenges for ball players in New York is that fans boo when they are unhappy and frustrated. This can paralyze even the most talented players. Back when I was general manager I made a trade to acquire Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar. He had just come off a season with the Indians in which he hit .300 with 20 homers, 20 stolen bases, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. We got off to a slow start the next year and Alomar and the rest of the team got booed. Alomar was paralyzed by the booing and never performed like the Hall of Famer he was.
Pendelton's comments came at a perfect time. Not because of McCann but because this is the last All-Star game that we have to honor Derek Jeter. What Jeter has done in New York is absolutely amazing. He was rarely, if ever, booed in New York. He played there for 20 years and never put himself in a position to be booed. That is remarkable.
Jeter is as consistent a player and person that baseball has ever seen. He got the job done in the field and at the plate. He always delivered. If the Yankees needed a leadoff hit, he got on base. If they needed a stolen base, he swiped one. If they needed a homer, he crushed one. If the Yankees needed a great defensive play, he dove in the stands and made one. His way to overcome booing is to never give them a reason to boo you.
Even more remarkable to me is how Jeter lived his life off the field in the fishbowl that is New York City. He was never in the gossip columns of the tabloids. He was never at the center of a scandal. In an era where everyone has camera phones, the fact that Jeter has never been caught in a compromising position is remarkable.
So in a week where we wonder whether a Yankee can handle playing in New York, we celebrate one that has done it better than anyone else. Derek Jeter is an extraordinary leader. Maybe one of his last acts of leadership will be to help Brian McCann cope with New York.
I have a love/hate relationship with Jeter. I hated him because he always found a way to beat my teams. I loved him because I have such respect for the way he has carried himself on and off the field. He is as classy as any player ever.
Baseball will miss Jeter. I for one will watch the All-Star Game on Tuesday to celebrate Derek Jeter. I hope you do too.