. . . so let’s catch up on our reading a little bit, with the promise that I will have a few things to say about several of the following matters in the days to come:
* Essentially, the hapless Houston Astros were named as the team to be named later in the deal that sent the Milwaukee Brewers to the National League, with the Astros beginning American League play in 2013 as a condition for approving Jim Crane as the team’s new owner. We hope you can figure out a way to enjoy fifteen-team leagues, two more wild cards, and perhaps interleague play from Opening Day until the final regular season day. I’m not necessarily sure I can, even though I think Jayson Stark had a point when he wrote that among the scheduling headaches won’t be what he calls “trying to fit more postseason baseball into an already-overstuffed schedule.”
* The new collective bargaining agreement may be an extension of baseball’s unprecedented labour peace period, but Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated isn’t the only one who thinks there are just enough dicey portions of the pact to cause baseball a couple of headaches having nothing to do with MLBPA-v.-owners tension:
Realignment sounds like a good idea — the symmetry of six divisions with five teams—but I need to hear the schedule before I can judge it. The risk is that every day of interleague play and the possibility of even more interleague games continues to reduce the distinction of leagues—giving baseball an NBA-style “conference” feel.
And if that goes from an NBA-style “conference” feel to, in due course, NBA-style playoffs in which it doesn’t matter one good damn what you do in the regular season when teams with losing records might (often do, in the NBA’s and the NHL’s case) make a trip to championship-round play, then who says this is good for baseball?
* Could we also ask whether the American League’s abominable designated hitter rule will now be imposed on the National League, if indeed there will be open-to-close interleague play, or whether the American League will be compelled to dump the rule at last?
* We don’t have to ask, however, whether Crane had any immediate changes afoot. It seems almost as though his ownership papers were barely inked and deposited in the safe deposit box when he began making them. They only began with the pinking of team president Tal Smith and, especially, general manager Ed Wade, a man whose tenure in that job for the Astros seems likely to be remembered as one in which, figuratively speaking, he turned the Astros into a major league feeder farm for that team in Philadelphia whose front office he used to run, which is one helluva way to begin the replenishment of a parched farm system. Not that Wade is going to be starving: he’s going to be floating to earth under a platinum parachute, which is pretty good for a guy whose efforts culminated in the 2011 Astros posting the second-worst season in the history of the franchise.
* Meanwhile, the Astros have been interviewing his potential successors, including Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman (you’d be amazed how many commentators are pushing for the Astros to just hire him), though Friedman is said to be happy in Tampa Bay. Crane has said he wants the next Astros GM to be committed to drafting and to player development.
* Did the Boston Red Sox collapse really deserve this? Unless the man really has learned the lessons he says he’s learned, from the day the New York Mets canned him after his half-dysfunctional clubhouse finally became too dysfunctional to ignore, Bobby Valentine isn’t likely to be a popular pick to manage the Olde Towne Team. It only began with Hall of Fame baseball writer Murray Chass, before Valentine looked confirmed as the next manager. Valentine’s history, in a shell-hole: yes, he’ll call out his players in the press, which may be bad enough, though you admire someone who demands accountability. And, yes, he’s one of the smartest in-game tacticians on the block, not to mention a man who got smart about matchups and marrying statistical signage to makeup long enough before sabermetrics really began taking hold in baseball offices and dugouts. But as Chass notes, Valentine also has a reputation (fair or unfair) as a backstabber and, when he isn’t one of the most hated baseball men in the game, on or near the field, he also has a reputation for trying to undermine any of his players who may be becoming anything close to fan favourites. In other words, and the Red Sox have been there/done that in their history (Dick Williams, God rest his soul, anyone?), the only star on a Bobby Valentine team can be Bobby Valentine.
* We’ll put it this way: Terry Francona got thrown under the bus (anyone who thinks he didn’t quit before he could be executed just doesn’t know the Red Sox all too well), team president Larry Lucchino probably did let his brand-new general manager twist while (depending upon whom you believe) jamming Valentine down his throat (though Chass thinks Ben Cherington wasn’t all that averse to Bobby V), and Valentine so far is saying all the right things in terms of team discipline. One point in Valentine’s favour: most of the players upon whom Francona relied to police their own clubhouse were gone by 2011. One big point against him: He managed to get a couple of Mets teams playing way over their own heads to the postseaons, including one to a World Series that was a lot closer than the 4-1 defeat by the Yankees looked, but he’s never won a division. In fact, he’s third on the all-time winning list of managers who never got their teams a legitimate pennant.
* On the other hand, as ESPN’s Joe McDonald notes, 1) it seems the Red Sox brass told “at least one” player (and maybe more?) that they weren’t about to hire someone like Valentine; however, 2) a “clubhouse source” is predicting the Red Sox are going to have a big mess on their hands with him. Except that McDonald says the Red Sox players brought this on themselves. The one could nourish the other, considering the front-office machinations that put the squeeze on Francona and threw quite a few players under the proverbial bus in the immediate wake of The Collapse.
* Jerry Dipoto is looking kind of smart, so far, as the new Los Angeles Angels general manager. He swapped promising but struggling fifth starter Tyler Chatwood to the Colorado Rockies for Chris Ianetta, a catcher with decent defence and a solid on-base percentage. Meaning the Angels just might be willing to let Jeff Mathis—the big defence/puny bat Mike Scioscia preferred to modest defence/big bat Mike Napoli last winter. That preference may have helped cost the Angels the AL West. The gamble: Dipoto may have surrendered an arm at a time where, organisationally, the Angels’ starting pitching depth begins and ends with the big club’s rotation and there’s not much on the farm behind them just yet. Even if Chatwood—bum’s rushed into service when Joel Piniero was injured and Scott Kazmir’s balloon finally finished deflating in April—struggled at times. Still, he looked big when giving up a single run (to the Dodgers) in back-to-back June starts and is considered a pitcher with a live overhand curve. The question now: is his the kind of pitching style that gets murdered in Colorado?
* The Angels may not be done dealing just yet. The word is that the Detroit Tigers have eyes for their veteran infielder Macier Izturis . . .
* The speculation, fantasising, and what-iffing about Albert Pujols changing into Chicago Cubs silks continues . . .
* So does the speculation, fantasising, and what-iffing about Prince Fielder going to Seattle, whose general manager Jack Zduriencik is believed to have a solid friendship with the free-agent first baseman . . .