Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

The Chicago Cubs, Slow Learners

They’re named after baby bears. Thursday night, they behaved like babies. And one of the infants in the middle of it, who actually began as one of the field’s diplomats, still insists on taking the low road.

“You’re up 7-2, Lendy Castillo’s pitching, it’s 3-0,” harrumphed Chicago Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger. “You don’t swing in that situation. Things happen.”

Let’s see. It was the fifth inning. The Washington Nationals, who’ve already played with a little more than derring-do to build that 7-2 lead, have the bases loaded, two out, and Jayson Werth at the plate. Castillo, a Rule 5 player who isn’t used much otherwise, hoping to impress his brass, but not exactly doing a fine job of that thus far, has fallen behind Werth 3-0.

Standing by their men . . .

The fifth inning. Not the eighth. Not the ninth. Four more innings to go. Did nobody teach Castillo, Clevenger, or any of these Cubs that they play nine innings in real baseball? No wonder the Cubs are going into the 105th year of their rebuilding effort.

Some of what’s likely to be forgotten about Thursday night is Kurt Suzuki whacking a three-run bomb to support Jordan Zimmermann in a nice bounceback start, punching out nine in seven innings’ work; or, the two-run bomb Adam LaRoche would hit not long after everyone went back to his dugout.  None of what’s likely to be forgotten, and I notice surfing around that the Cubs don’t have as many defenders as they’d probably like to have this time, is the Cubs looking, acting, and talking like a bunch of four year olds.

Thursday night’s Cub starter, Justin Germano, made that clear enough. “When you have circumstances like that, you can take it like that—for yourselves to know that we’re not going to let guys run over us,’’ he told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘And if we’ve got to make them uncomfortable in the box, then that’s what we’ve got to do—not totally going after somebody but just trying to make them aware not to be uncomfortable.”

If we’ve got to make them uncomfortable?

These Cubs couldn’t make a Little League team uncomfortable. Germano was talking over his head for a guy who’d been slapped silly for six earned runs (seven overall) in four innings’ work including Suzuki’s blast and, in the fourth, Bryce Harper’s Flying Wallendas-like infield hit with first and second, which allowed Suzuki to score with Werth and Harper moving up further on Starlin Castro’s miscue and scoring—Harper included, on another round of fancy foot and headwork measuring the play and the throw in—off Ryan Zimmerman’s single.

And Germano’s going to sound the charge against guys running over these Cubs?

Clevenger’s major league career to date has been a small cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2011, good for one double and a run scored in five plate appearances, before a 2012 that shows, thus far, sixty games, a .276 on-base percentage, fielding percentages and range factors below the National League average for catchers, and a -0.8 wins above a replacement level player. In early August, with his playing time upped since Geovanny Soto was traded to Texas, the rook got himself tossed after bellowing, with swearing, at ump Jeff Nelson over a pitch call while batting against Cincinnati.

Yep, he’s the one to show the world the Cubs aren’t going to take the Nats’ chazerei lying down. Clevenger, the Chicago Sun-Times noted about the August toss, “is learning about major-league demeanor as much as hitting and working behind the plate.” Apparently, he’s a slow learner. Maybe if the commissioner’s office hands him, Castillo, and Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk (about whom more anon) suspensions, he’ll get a little closer to his diploma.

So Werth took a big cut on 3-0 with the ducks on the pond in the fifth. Where I and just about every other baseball watcher comes from they call 3-0 a hitter’s count. Would the Cubs have been offended less if Werth had had the decency to wait until 3-1 before taking a cut?

Clevenger took time to switch mitts when a lace broke on his game piece. During that time, as he went to the Cubs’ dugout to find its replacement, Quirk  and a few possible other Cub pine-pony riders started barking toward the Nats, third base coach Bo Porter in particular. Porter didn’t exactly take kindly to the barking, but he strode almost calmly toward the Cub dugout’s railing, provoking both benches to empty for the first time, though nothing much more than that happened just yet.

It almost seems forgotten that Werth skied to right for the side after order was restored the first time. Certainly it wasn’t necessarily predestination that Harper should lead off the bottom of the sixth. He’d only had a huge hand in the Nats’ Wednesday night 9-1 thrashing, with a pair of bombs. Harper had also been 4-for-8 in the first three games, not to mention turning a double into a triple and a run scored plus an infield hit before he batted in the sixth Thursday.

Clevenger (51), practising scuffle diplomacy . . .

But by God Castillo and Clevenger were going to send the kid a little reminder of who the men were around here. Castillo threw the first pitch of the inning at Harper’s belt on the hip side. Harper bent out of the way like an architect’s compass. Clevenger moved not. a. muscle. as the pitch sailed past Harper and to the Nationals Park backstop. The two Cubs should only be grateful plate ump Jerry Layne—who helped Clevenger nudge Harper away from thoughts of having a mano-a-mano showdown with Castillo at the mound—didn’t throw them out of the game right then and there.

Only when Harper took a couple of steps forward to object to the no-questions-asked purpose pitch did Clevenger rise out of his crouch and step forward, looking to all the world like a peacemaker as he urged Harper back, followed by Werth and Ryan Zimmerman hustling quickly to the plate area to protect their “kid brother,” as pitcher Gio Gonzalez would call him.

You could understand the Cubs’ frustrations. The Nationals slapped them around like bowling pins in the set’s first three. Until Harper got bent the Nats had been on a feeding frenzy including and especially a whopping twelve home runs in the first three games and six on Wednesday night alone. Lots of players don’t hit twelve home runs in a season. Some don’t hit that many in a career.

What you couldn’t understand, of course, is why a kid pitcher who’s been walking six per nine innings thus far, with an ERA that looks like the average price of a compact disc album, and a kid catcher who isn’t exactly making that big an impression behind the dish or at the plate, are going to teach these rapacious Nats a lesson in manners by throwing at anyone. Never mind a Bryce Harper who’s one teenager that doesn’t know the meaning of throttling back when it comes to playing major league baseball.

“It’s really frustrating,” Clevenger drawled in the clubhouse. “They’ve been swinging the bat well all series, you can’t do nothing about that. You try to make some pitches in, and things like that happen.”

Johnson (right, with Michael Morse), managing to win . . .

If all it was was trying to make a pitch inside, Clevenger wouldn’t have sat like a catatonic as the pitch bent Harper and sailed to the backstop without so much as waving his mitt even to look like he was trying to spear it. If you’re going to throw at someone with plausible deniability, protecting your pitcher includes making it look, all the way, like a pitch that just got away. Wave at it. Lunge at it. Anything but sitting still. It betrays you every time.

Somewhere in the milling and mewing that followed immediately, Clevenger, who swears he was still trying to play peacemaker, managed to swing an open hand at a Nat—possibly Ian Desmond, who happened to stumble back and knock umpire Bill Miller down accidentally, Desmond helping Miller up post haste—before trying a shove against hulking Nat Michael Morse. A Cub relief pitcher, Manny Corpas, could be seen in one of the few open spaces in the melee jawing and pointing at a Nat or two. Clevenger, Corpas, and Nats relief corpsman Miguel Gonzalez were thrown out of the game.

Layne left no question who he thought was to blame for touching off the entire evenings’ rumble. He hung it on Quirk in the fifth, saying the bench coach’s “screaming obscenities” at Porter was the pouring of the powder into the keg.

“Here we are in the fifth inning,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said after the game. “We’re in a pennant race, we’re going to swing 3-0, we’re going to do everything. We ain’t stopping trying to score runs. Certainly a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach’s frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we’re going to keep competing.”

Sveum, managing to survive . . .

“It’s probably one of the biggest butt-whuppings I’ve ever gotten in my career, as a coach or player,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, whose baby bears had just been thrashed in four straight and outscored by 22 runs while they were at it. I don’t remember getting manhandled that bad in any kind of series I’ve ever been a part of. Hopefully these young guys–the team that we’re trying to build–can look back on this and learn a lot from it and know exactly where you got to be as a team to get there.”

Johnson, managing to win. Sveum, managing to survive. You get the feeling the Cubs didn’t learn a thing Thursday night, other than if you can’t beat ’em, try to bean ’em or beat ’em up.

“It’s probably not going to help them avoid their first 100-loss season in [Cubs president of baseball operations] Theo Epstein’s lifetime,” writes the Sun-Times‘s Gordon Wittenmyer, “but the fight the Cubs showed in Thursday’s 70-man scuffle with the Washington Nationals was a significant step in the growing process for the young team, said some of the clubhouse elders.”

If that’s so, how come no less than Cub first baseman Anthony Rizzo all but said after the drubbing was done that there was no earthly or other reason to think about throwing at Harper?

“I don’t think he was over the top at all,” Rizzo told the Chicago Tribune of Harper’s immediate response after Castillo bent him in half. “Things escalated. Bryce, it wasn’t like he was running his mouth or saying anything. He plays this game the right way. He plays hard. He’s real exciting to watch. Playing against him, you have to contain him.”

If Rizzo said as much to his teammates after it was all over, he’d have established himself as a legitimate team leader right away. Because the Cubs showed the wrong kind of fight Thursday night, but the Nats showed the right kind all week long. Among other things, it’s the kind of fight that doesn’t send you home for the winter to watch the postseason on television while leaving behind the impression you’re nothing but a bunch of sore losers.

The Nats Play Baseball, the Cubs Play Basebrawl

All of a sudden the Chicago Cubs seem to have a new slogan: You play baseball, we’ll play basebrawl. Not that it’s going to stop the Washington Nationals from finishing what they started Thursday night, a 9-2 drubbing to complete a four-game sweep. But by cracky it’ll make us feel like men’s men to teach you a lesson, you miserable pudknockers!

Yep, that’s the way for a team who got outscored 31-9 over the four games in Washington to show the world who the men are in this game. Let that upstart Harper brat pick himself up, dust himself off, and roll all over us, will you? Let’s see how smart he looks when we knock him on his ass after we’re so far down in this game we wouldn’t be able to get back up with a rocket.

“Whaddya mean, get bent? Whaddya think he just did to me?!? And those ain’t clown questions, bro!”

That’ll teach the Nats to play like champions-to-be against the Cubs, who’ve now dropped seventeen of eighteen road games and built a six-game losing streak overall in the bargain. Who cares if the Nats are in a pennant race for real while the Cubs couldn’t out-race a millipede in a manual wheelchair? They want to pour it on when they’ve already got themselves a 7-2 lead? We’re not gonna take that lying down!

No, they were going to make sure Bryce Harper took one lying down, or close enough to it. Lendy Castillo, the Cubs’ righthanded relief pitcher, opened the bottom of the sixth with a fastball right at Harper’s belt. Castillo couldn’t even think about trying to argue that the ball got away from him. And at first Cub catcher Steve Clevenger looked like a first-class diplomat. When Harper, understandably enough, took a couple of steps toward the mound, Clevenger merely got around to his front and urged him back and away.

That’s when Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman hustled out toward Harper to make sure the lad didn’t get himself into any further hot water as the benches and bullpens poured out for the second time on the night. And that was where the entire field crowd might have dissipated after a little barking and no punching. Except that Gio Gonzalez, Wednesday night’s winning pitcher, felt a Cub paw on his shoulder, and heard another Cub barking at him, and the two dissipating sides poured back in.

This time, Clevenger surrendered his diplomatic corps credentials and gave a shove to the Nats’ Michael Morse. This is something along the line of Tom Thumb challenging Paul Bunyan to a boxing match. It’s also guaranteed to cause a scrum within the scrum, which is exactly what happened. All this while Harper, Werth, and Zimmermann did their best to stay on the peripheries. “You come into our house and try to mess with our kid brother,” Gonzalez told the Washington Post after the brawlgame, “that’s how we look at it. You’re not just going to come in and please as you do with that.”

Clevenger got the ho-heave. So did Nats relief pitcher Michael Gonzalez and Cubs reliever Manny Corpas, who was seen rather vividly on camera jawing, pointing, and for all anyone could tell threatening various mayhems to various Nats.

By the time any semblance of order could be restored, and Harper could continue his turn at bat, the only question remaining before the house was what the hell Castillo was still doing in the game. Maybe the warnings went to both sides after he bent Harper, but even the blind could have seen he left no room to wiggle into a claim that the ball got away from him somehow.

As things turned out, Harper finally struck out, but Zimmerman chased Castillo with a base hit. Jeff Beliveau came in to relieve and found no further relief when Adam LaRoche hit his first service into the right field seats.

Just a night earlier, after getting thumped 9-1, with Harper himself leading the mayhem with two bombs and the Nationals just about running out of bleachers into which to deposit their launches, Cubs manager Dale Sveum—who’d been thrown out in the third for arguing balls and strikes—seemed to know the score well enough. “It’s just men playing against boys right now,” he mourned.

That was Wednesday, this was Thursday, and the tensions probably started in earnest in the fifth, after the Nats an inning earlier poured it on further with three more runs. Now, up 7-2 with the bases loaded and two out, Werth took a big cut on 3-0. Too big so far as Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk seemed to be concerned. He started jawing from his dugout at Nats third base coach Bo Porter, who could be forgiven for not taking kindly to Quirk telling him something along the line, perhaps, of how nice it isn’t to keep playing guns blazing when you’re already burying the opposition.

Yep—it’s just men playing against boys right now . . .

Porter may have left the Nats’s broadcast team aghast when he strode over to the rail of the Cubs’ dugout. But Quirk was the one ejected. And, the instigator. Says whom? Says Thursday night’s home plate ump, Jerry Layne, leaving no doubt. “The fracas was started because all that stuff that happened that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter. And the obscenities that he screamed out, I just felt was inappropriate and that’s what caused everything,” the husky ump told reporters.

Inappropriate? If the ducks hadn’t been on the pond at the time, who’s to say with the mood of the Cubs that Werth wouldn’t have gotten one thrown toward his own gut.

Harper had already returned under the Cubs’ skins as early as the first inning, when he whacked and ran out a nifty triple, diving head first into third just to be sure, then scored on another dive while Zimmerman was grounding out. In the bottom of the fourth the lad got even friskier, beating out an infield hit with Kurt Suzuki and Werth on ahead of him, Suzuki scoring, Werth to third and Harper to second on Starlin Castro’s muff, before Werth and Harper came home on Zimmerman’s single.

Werth was in position to swing 3-0 with ducks on the pond in the fifth after Ian Desmond—who’d be knocked into umpire Bill Miller during the sixth-inning soiree after Clevenger took an open-hand swing at him—drew a one-out walk off Castillo and stole second. Danny Espinosa singled him over to third, then stole second himself after a second out, before Zimmerman drew a full-count walk to load them up. That Werth skied to right for the side almost went forgotten while Quirk launched his screed to Porter and both sides launched out of the dugouts and the pens.

Davey Johnson, a manager to whom the word “quit” is an obscenity, illustrated precisely why the Nats are where they are and the Cubs are where they aren’t. “Here we are in the fifth inning,” he said to reporters after the game. “We’re in a pennant race, we’re going to swing 3-0, we’re going to do everything. We ain’t stopping trying to score runs. Certainly, a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach’s frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we’re going to keep competing.”

Handing it to them for a couple of days? By the time the Nats finally got through with them, the Cubs were probably calling in search and rescue teams to help them recover their heads.

They weren’t anywhere to be seen in Nationals Park all week long. These Cubs didn’t even pretend to keep competing. They got steamrolled. And there was no way they were going to leave town before letting the Nats know who the men around here were.

Not these Cubs. Why, their rebuilding effort is only going to go to its one hundred and fifth year. Big deal.

Sandberg, Iron-Willed IronPig, Working Patiently Toward Show Time

When he was spurned as Mike Quade’s successor to manage the Chicago Cubs, the team for whom he shone as a Hall of Fame second baseman, Ryne Sandberg on the record was as gracious as he claimed Theo Epstein, the freshly installed president of baseball operations, had been in delivering the verdict.

“Theo called me 10 minutes after they issued the press release and told me that they have a list of guys and I’m not on it,” Sandberg told the Chicago Daily Herald. “He wished me good luck and said he hoped I got a chance somewhere soon. He didn’t owe me that at all. He didn’t have to do that. It was a classy move and I’m very appreciative of the phone call. In the end, I wished him and everybody there good luck.”

Iron willed patience  . . .

Sandberg wasn’t necessarily angry. Ask his one-time mentor, Dallas Green, who engineered the deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that made Sandberg a Cub in the first place, after he’d had about half a cup of coffee (if that much) with the Phillies, and it was something else entirely.

“When the Cubs did what they did,” Green tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, as part of a remarkable profile of Sandberg, “I don’t think he was pissed as much as hurt. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, but Ryne was like a second Mr. Cub kind of guy. He’s a Hall of Famer who paid his dues starting in ‘A’ ball. I don’t know what else the Cubs wanted him to do to prove he could manage.”

Epstein wanted someone with major league managing and coaching experience. Dale Sveum, his eventual hire, had been the Boston Red Sox’s third base coach in 2004-05, before returning to the Milwaukee Brewers (where he’d begun his career as an infielder in 1986) as bench coach and, in time, the club’s interim manager when Ned Yost was executed. Perhaps amazingly, Sveum took the Brewers into the 2008 postseason with a 7-5 finish, only to lose to the Phillies in the division series and become the Brewers’ hitting coach under Ken Macha.

From 2007-2010, Sandberg cut a respected swath managing up the Cubs’ organisational chain. He started with the Peoria Chiefs (A) . . . and led them to the Midwest League championship game. He got promoted to the Tennessee Smokies (AA) two years later . . . and led them to the Southern League playoffs. That earned him a prompt promotion to the Iowa Cubs (AAA) . . . and accolades as the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year.

When Lou Piniella decided to retire in 2010 (midseason, as things turned out), he made a point of recommending Sandberg as his successor. The pre-Epstein Cubs installed Quade (who’d managed the I-Cubs for three seasons in the earlier Aughts), instead; Quade’s deceptive (24-13) finish helped remove the interim tag. Sandberg, who’d obeyed former general manager Jim Hendry’s advice to manage well and strong in the Cubs’ system first, wasn’t even a topic—except out in Cub Country, where the clamour for his promotion often hit fever pitch.

After Epstein shooed him away, however politely, Sandberg became a kind of prodigal son. The Phillies, his first major league organisation, hired him to take their Lehigh Valley (AAA) farm. All he did was manage the IronPigs to the International League’s Governor’s Cup finals. All he’s done is compile a 438-408 record as a minor league manager including what will be three seasons managing in AAA ball. And all he does, other than further solidify a reputation as a great baseball teacher with a flair for making his teams play and work like teams, is wait.

Sandberg is probably too polite to say it, but it probably vexed him quietly when two teams thought to have him on their radars, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox, decided after 2011 to hire managers (Mike Matheny, Cardinals; Robin Ventura, White Sox) with zero managing experience. The Cardinals needed a new skipper when Tony La Russa decided it was best to go out on top after a miraculous World Series championship; the White Sox needed someone to begin removing the toxic clouds bequeathed by Ozzie Guillen.

“Sandberg’s dogged pursuit of his goal and refusal to grouse about dues-paying,” Crasnick writes, “have won him a growing contingent of admirers in the industry. He has never vented publicly or shown impatience with his deliberate career track. On the contrary; he thinks all that time in the minors has laid the necessary groundwork for him to be successful when the opportunity arrives.”

Some think Sandberg has been too becalmed to impress Show general managers when they interview their next candidates. “He was very quiet as a player, and that was the only doubt I had,” Green tells Crasnick. “Could he bring emotion or a discipline to the dugout? I didn’t know. But everybody I talked to said, ‘Dallas, he’s really opened up. He’ll go out on the field. He’ll argue with umpires and get thrown out of games. He’s done it here.’ That was the growth part I hadn’t seen. He certainly has it.” If you take Crasnick’s word for it, there’s credit to spare going to Sandberg’s wife, Margaret (his second marriage; he underwent a bitter divorce in the mid-1990s that actually drove him into a first retirement as a player), for bringing him forth from his former reserved self.

Others perceive Sandberg as a Cub to the grave in his heart of hearts. The worst-kept secret in baseball may have been how he lusted to manage the Cubs. Until Epstein told Sandberg he wasn’t even a topic, Sandberg seems to have had no intention of going anywhere else.

Driving baseballs the way he now drives players—smooth, no nonsense, no fuss . . .

Crasnick speculates Sandberg being promoted to the Phillies’ coaching staff for next season. He also thinks incumbent manager Charlie Manuel, who’s trying to finish a deflating 2012 with an aging former champion but whose contract expires after 2013, isn’t necessarily going to reach for the rye bottle over the idea. “[I]f Manuel feels threatened by Sandberg’s presence,” Crasnick writes, “he certainly doesn’t show it. He sounds like Sandberg’s personal campaign manager.” Indeed. Manuel tells Crasnick, “I love talking hitting with him, and I like talking the game. He kind of revs me up. He’s going manage in the big leagues without a doubt, because he’s that good. He puts in the time and the work. In some ways, he’s quiet. But he’ll get what he wants, because he’s that good.”

Green illustrates a point about minor league managing that few seem to think about on contact. That lack of immediate thought could have been working to Sandberg’s detriment, too. “Triple-A is a horse[bleep] place to manage,” the former World Series-winning Phillies manager tells Crasnick. “Guys are always pissing and moaning about not being in the big leagues, or being sent down, or not getting a chance. You have all these grudge-holders with different agendas or an itch under their saddle, and there’s all that ragging going on. [Sandberg] is able to cut that ragging out and make them play the game of baseball. He’s done it everyplace he’s been.”

If you didn’t know better, you could just about take Green’s observation and wonder why it was that the Red Sox—whose freshman general manager, Ben Cherington, wanted Dale Sveum, but whose president, Larry Lucchino, may have led the effort to shove Bobby Valentine down the Red Sox throat—didn’t even give Sandberg a nod, never mind a wink. Like blind horses, the Red Sox threw a lit match into a gas house and watched it explode most of 2012. Sandberg, if you take Crasnick’s word for it, is exactly what the Red Sox were foolish enough only to think they were getting when they hired Valentine:

Sandberg demands professionalism from his players, whether it means running out groundballs or standing at attention for the national anthem. He preaches the team concept, and tells players that individual accolades will come if the team wins games. He urges the IronPigs to pull for each other, and believes in the importance of community service, readily consenting when the club asks him to appear at a local soup kitchen or visit with wheelchair-bound kids in the Miracle League . . . 

During his time in Lehigh Valley, Frandsen noticed that the manager never threw up his hands in exasperation or let out a sigh of discontent if a player swung at a bad pitch or made a mental gaffe. Sandberg would pull the player aside and quietly but firmly tell him the right way to do things, and leave it at that. Although Sandberg never played for Bobby Cox, he has a Cox-like aversion to showing up players or calling them out publicly.

Morganna missed. Sandberg didn’t.

Sandberg, in other words, would never have questioned Kevin Youkilis’s heart, betrayed Kelly Shoppach’s confidence, left Jon Lester in for an eleven-run beating (I’ve never seen a manager watch the bullpens . . . [b]ut it’s just another sign that he cares—Scott Elarton, ten-year major league pitcher now with Lehigh Valley), gone public with a lame crack about a young infielder’s hard inning with the glove, or dismissed most of his aura as a matter of players having to accept they might become collateral damage in the middle of the shooting at him. But neither would he have sanctioned the very idea that any of his players had quit on him down a rickety stretch.

This is the guy who was so even-keeled that not even Morganna the Kissing Bandit could rattle him. Granted that he got a little help from Wrigley Field security when she tried to nail him—it was the first night game ever played in the old yard, in 1988—but Sandberg still stepped back into the batter’s box and hit the next pitch into the bleachers. About the only thing that can rattle him now is badly executed baseball. Waiting it out to get his hard-earned shot at major league managing isn’t exactly the worst burden Sandberg’s ever carried. And he knows it.


I don’t apologise for beating a bit of a drum on Ryne Sandberg’s behalf. I’ve supported him getting a major league managing chance for three years and counting. If Jerry Crasnick is right, and it’s just a matter of when, not if, who might be Sandberg suitors down this year’s stretch or after the season?

Valentine—still going, possibly?

Boston Red Sox—Just because they rid themselves of a few players thought to be somewhat less than his allies doesn’t exactly mean Bobby Valentine’s going to survive to manage the second year of his two-year deal. General manager Ben Cherington looked more like a genius for swinging The Deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers than president Larry Lucchino looks for having led the cramming of Valentine down the Red Sox’s throat, and while there’s a lot less public turmoil from the Red Sox clubhouse it doesn’t mean they’re that willing to give Valentine a chance to finish cleaning up the mess. Normally, it’s just a matter of time before Valentine’s divide-and-conquer style re-toxifies. And, right now, you can pretty much write the 2012 Red Sox off as badly lost, a point hammered home (literally, too) Friday night when the Oakland Athletics battered them, 20-2. (Battered? More like human rights violations.)

Cherington, remember, first wanted Dale Sveum—whose Show managing experience amounted to one eleventh-hour stretch drive and an early postseason exit. Sveum seems to be safe in Wrigley Field for the time being, since the Cubs are strictly in rebuild. There’s much speculation about the Red Sox pondering a trade to bring John Farrell, their former pitching coach, back from Toronto to take the bridge, but the Blue Jays haven’t indicated (publicly, anyway) they’d be open to the deal. If they’re not, and if the Red Sox’s plans include picking and choosing from among their younger prospects to help re-fortify the parent club, Sandberg’s rep as a minor league manager could only add to his prospects as a Red Sox manager, for a team in dire need of learning and re-learning the right ways.

Sandberg, by the way, isn’t an obscure commodity in Boston: the Red Sox interviewed him in 2010 for the managing job at Pawtucket, before the Red Sox decided to stay within the existing organisation and promote Arnie Beyeler.

Cleveland Indians—A pleasant surprise in 2011, when they had baseball’s best record through May and stayed in the pennant picture until September, this year’s Tribe looked like a better encore—they spent most of the first half near or at the top of the American League Central (they spent a little over half of April leading it, in fact)—until a 5-28 spell,  including Friday night’s loss to Texas right after a sweep by the Oakland Athletics, seemed to hint Manny Acta was on the hot seat.

Acta—sacrificial lamb?

Acta can’t be blamed for injuries and underachievement, since his players seem mostly to like playing for him. But there’s speculation that if general manager Chris Antonetti fears his own job is on the line he might execute Acta, maybe as a bid to show he’s not backing down. Might. But would they have Sandberg in the Rolodex?

Houston Astros—They threw former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills over the side after a couple of years in which Mills, admittedly, had about as much solid stock to work with as the Pontiac Aztek. Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco may have a comparable handicap, but he’s also 1-10 since taking the bridge. Say what you will about the Astros as the team to be named later to complete the deal making a National League team out of the Brewers. But if there’s to be a new atmosphere of reaching for winning baseball and team ball, Sandberg certainly couldn’t hurt.

Kansas City Royals—Ned Yost may be managing himself out of another gig, since the Royals—who were widely believed to be on the threshold of breaking into competitiveness if not quite a run at even a wild card—have broken only into another long season’s mediocrity. Remember: this is the same Ned Yost who managed himself out of a job with twelve games to play in 2008 and watched his bench coach Sveum finish with a trip to the postseason. Don’t be terribly shocked if Sandberg might be among those in the Royals’ sights.

Will the Blizzard of Ozz freeze himself out of Florida?

Miami Marlins—Their winter 2011-12 spending spree, and their prying Ozzie Guillen out of Chicago, have both blown up in their faces. Guillen’s fresh rant that practically implied his injured players were really quitters probably didn’t do him any huge favours, either. If the Fish—whose upper management isn’t exactly famous for deep thinking—decide to stuff and mount the Blizzard of Ozz, don’t be surprised if Sandberg turns up on a candidate list at least.

New York Mets—As late as a fortnight ago I assumed Terry Collins was safe. If I were making the call I’d keep him that way—he’s Bobby Valentine without the divide-and-conquer, no-secret’s-safe style. But the whisperings have actually begun that he may not be as safe as many think, even though it’s hardly his fault that the Mets couldn’t (and haven’t) lived up to their first-half results. They might be—would be—foolish to execute Collins over their second-half deflation, since he actually has done his best with what he’s had to work with. But if they do, Sandberg could be on their to-do list.

Farrell—please come to Boston?

Toronto Blue Jays—The Jays have been battered by injuries in 2012, a season in which some thought they could contend for a wild card spot at least. ESPN says the Red Sox actually thought of making a play for Farrell after 2011 until the Blue Jays pulled him back, but that was then and this could be now. Analyst Buster Olney has told The Mike and Mike Show he thinks the Jays will ask Farrell at season’s end (he, too, is signed through the end of 2013) if he wants to stay and, if the answer’s no, pull the trigger on a swap with the Sox. The likely trade: Farrell for pitcher Daniel Bard, or so the incessant speculation would have it.

If the Jays discover Farrell might want out and they make the Red Sox deal, don’t be surprised if Sandberg turns up among their candidates.

Castro Sentenced to Seven Years

Castro—Seven-year contract; or, seven-year sentence, depending on your point of view . . .

OK, I’m being a wisenheimer. But Starlin Castro will get seven years—to play for the Chicago Cubs. (OK, there are those who’d consider that a prison sentence . . . ) Seven years and, we can presume, delicious dollars enough. Whether that’s a contract or a sentence depends on your point of view and, of course, the Cubs’ coming fortunes, or lack thereof.

The deal covers Castro’s four arbitration-eligible seasons and his first year of free agency eligibility. The Cubs haven’t yet released the actual terms officially, other than a club option for 20/20, but various reports say the deal is worth $60 million plus a $1 million buyout. Surely, though, the Cubs hope the option year won’t come to equal 20/20 hindsight’s customary regrets.

The deal is also said to include a $6 million signing bonus to be divided as $3 million up front and $1 million each in the next three seasons, with an extra $2 million in the deal’s final year if Castro either wins the MVP or finishes top five two straight seasons.

In just his third full major league season Castro’s been a two-time All-Star and has the most hits (486) of any National League player, including the 207 with which he led the league last season. Before Tuesday night Castro was hitting .276 with 63 RBI and 12 home runs, not to mention 2.7 wins above a replacement-level player. The Cubs are probably banking on the shortstop ramping it up big approaching his absolute prime seasons.

Got Melk—Under Drug Testing Program, That Is

This is just what the San Francisco Giants don’t need, though it probably did the Washington Nationals—who just squared off against the Giants in San Francisco—a small favour: Melky Cabrera, the MVP of this year’s All-Star Game, suspended fifty games for a positive testosterone test.

The announcement came practically on the heels of the Giants announcing contract talks with Cabrera would go on hold until season’s end. Cabrera, of course, was enjoying a very respectable walk year, with a .906 OPS and a National League-leading 156 hits, 51 of which came in May alone (tying Randy Winn’s team record for any month, and breaking Willie Mays’ team record for May, since the Giants came to San Francisco in the first place), a significant factor in the Giants at this writing sitting tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

Got melked by a positive testosterone test . . .

Cabrera’s suspension begins at once. If the Giants get to the postseason, those games will be included as part of Cabrera’s suspension. If they don’t, Cabrera will finish serving the sentence at the open of the 2013 regular season.

Give Cabrera credit for this much: He ducked nothing and manned up at once when handed his sentence. “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organisation, and to the fans for letting them down,” he said in a formal statment.

The Giants landed Cabrera in the off-season in a swap that sent Jonathan Sanchez (P) to the Kansas City Royals. He signed a single-year deal with the Giants rather than go to salary arbitration.


CONTINUING THE CUB SHUFFLE—Theo Epstein’s work on remaking/remodeling the Cubs continued Wednesday with the execution of Oneri Fleita as vice president of player personnel. “All of us with the Cubs owe Oneri a debt of gratitude for his tremendous service to the organization over many years. Oneri has impacted countless people here in a positive way, and we wish him well as he continues his career elsewhere,” said Epstein in a statement. Fleita had been in the Cubs’ organisation since 1995; he was actually given a four-year contract extension in 2011, before Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were brought aboard. The Cubs also canned manager of baseball information Chuck Wasserstrom, who’d been with the Cubs for 25 years; and, reassigned statistical analysis manager Ari Kaplan to become a consultant to owner Tom Ricketts.

THE BOSTON BRISTLE, CONTINUED—Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry says none of the players who wanted to meet with the brass in that July New York sit-down actually called for manager Bobby Valentine’s execution. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports—whose colleague, Jeff Passan, wrote the article that launched this week’s  hoo-ha over the meeting—argues that, whatever you do or don’t think about Valentine’s style vis a vis a rickety Red Sox clubhouse, Henry must tell one and all that Valentine’s his man through the end of his contract (it expires after 2013, specifically) at least, “that employees do not fire managers.”

Tell everyone this isn’t working because bad contracts and worse attitudes have fouled the place, but will not any longer. Tell them that it will be addressed this winter, that the talented [general manager Ben] Cherington is under orders to see to it, no matter the cost in discarded mistakes and malcontents. Now what? Tell them none of this will be tolerated any longer. 

That’s a pretty point. But what do you say about a manager who, yes, walked into a fragile enough situation to begin with—and after assorted Red Sox brass, perhaps unaware of what other assorted Red Sox brass thought, told assorted Red Sox players last winter that the divide-and-conquer Valentine wasn’t even a blip on their managerial radar—chose almost from the outset to inflame rather than inspire his players?

Will John Henry’s hammer drop on Bobby V., his rickety clubhouse, or both . . .?

It wasn’t the players who threw Kevin Youkilis under the proverbial bus right out of the chute, questioning his heart in hand with his physical condition, possibly as revenge for Youkilis, supposedly, being the one who dropped the proverbial dime on the chicken-and-beer contingency of last September. (Enough say that was the precise moment Valentine lost much of his clubhouse.)

It wasn’t the players who filled out the wrong lineup card against the Minnesota Twins shortly after the Youkilis yak—though it was one player (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) who caught the blunder in time enough for its correction.

It wasn’t the players who made a starter out of setup man Daniel Bard only to learn the hard way Bard would be in over his head in that role.

It wasn’t the players who finked on now-traded Kelly Shoppach, who took his complaint about playing time to Valentine for a private discussion about it.

It wasn’t the players who took poor Will Middlebrooks’s “nice inning, kid” barb from Valentine public. (Though it may have been one player, post-Tommy John patient John Lackey, out for the season while he recuperates from the procedure, who took that remark to Henry privately. Emphasis on “privately.” Lackey may have his troubles otherwise, but he wasn’t looking to make a press pump out of it.)

It wasn’t the players who betrayed Clay Buchholz’s private request for an extra day’s rest and threw in a subtle implication that Buchholz’s heart, too, should be deemed suspect.

It wasn’t the players who decided Jon Lester absolutely needed to stay in, on a day he clearly didn’t have it, for an eleven-run beating from which no one could find anyone to step in for him before it got past a five-run first-inning flogging.

And it wasn’t the players who told the Boston Herald, ““I hear a lot of (players) say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody talk about this other team like that? Why don’t they talk about anyone else?’ I just say, ‘It’s just because this is who we are. We’re the Red Sox.’ And maybe it’s because of who I am, too. They have to understand, I’m here. There’s going to be a lot of bullets thrown my way, and they can become collateral damage.”

The Red Sox players aren’t quite innocent. But if Henry were to heed Brown and deputise Cherington to clean house, the housecleaning probably has to include the manager, too. If Valentine has a few too many of the wrong players to lead, high-priced or otherwise, a few too many of the right players (high-priced or otherwise) have the wrong manager to lead them. And what would make someone think that cleaning out the Red Sox clubhouse would give the divide-and-conquer Valentine a better shake at anything . . .  other than possibly blowing up a cleaner clubhouse, perhaps while shrugging that off as just a case of collateral damage from the “bullets” thrown his way?

Valentine has his talents as a manager. Unfortunately, they’re not suited for just any old place. And Boston, for better or worse, isn’t just any old place.

ABOUT THOSE TRADE-DEADLINE PICKUPS—In a word, says SweetSpot’s David Schoenfeld, they’ve been duds thus far, to a considerable extent:

Ryan Dempster—After all the hoopla about where he’d go (or want to go), before he finally consented to go to Texas, Dempster as a Ranger has been nuked for 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings in three starts, two of which saw him reached for eight runs each.

Anibal Sanchez—As a Tiger, he’s been a pussycat: 1-3, 7.97 ERA since going to Detroit, 19 runs in 20.1 innings, and by the way he got lit up Monday, too.

Zack Greinke—Until he beat the Indians Tuesday night, Greinke came off a five-walk game and the Angels hadn’t won in his previous three starts since joining them.

Hunter Pence—Struggling when the Phillies dealt him to the Giants in the first place, Pence through Tuesday had a .445 OPS.

Ichiro Suzuki—The good news: He’s been a better Yankee than Mariner this season. The bad news: He’s not exactly pushing the Empire Emeritus closer to the top.

Jonathan Broxton—In four innings with Cincinnati, he’s burped up four runs. Not to mention one loss and one blown save in one of his gigs.

The good news? Hanley Ramirez isn’t putting up a better OPS in Los Angeles than he did in Miami, but he has driven in eighteen runs since joining the Dodgers. Omar Infante (to the Tigers) and Shane Victorino (to the Dodgers) are doing well in their new environs. Chris Johnson also has eighteen ribs since joining the Diamondbacks. And Paul Maholm, not exactly the most glittering name on the non-waiver trade block, has allowed only three runs in his first two Atlanta starts, building himself to a total of eight runs in his previous eight starts.

The Giants Sing a Song of Hunter Pence

They won’t be doing this with each other anymore: Hunter Pence (r.) will be doing it against Shane Victorino (l.), now that Pence is a Giant and Victorino, a Dodger . . .

Now we’re rolling. The Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants have finished a deal to send Hunter Pence to the Giants for major league-established outfielder Nate Schierholtz and two prospects, catcher Tommy Joseph and pitcher Seth Rosin. (Now, there’s a name for a pitcher!)

The Giants were looking for an upgrade in the lineup and in the outfield, which Pence—who’s signed through this season and could earn over $13 million in 2013—would bring with the 17 homers and 59 RBI he has so far in 2012. The deal comes right on the tail of the Phillies sending Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

For Pence, it’s his second non-waiver deadline move in as many seasons: the Phillies landed him near the deadline last year from the team named later to complete the deal that sent the Milwaukee Brewers to the National League.

The Phillies, meanwhile, are said to have stopped all talk involving trading Cliff Lee despite Lee’s struggling. The Texas Rangers, whom Lee helped lead to a World Series in 2010, were thought to be interested in bringing him back, but various reports point to the Rangers not wanting to surrender quite the package the Phillies sought in return even if the Rangers were willing to work with the Phillies on Lee’s remaining salary.

The Phillies aren’t looking (yet) for a downright organisational overhaul, but they are trying to rehorse for a run in 2013 after injuries and inconsistencies drove them to the bottom of the National League East this season. At this writing, the Phillies are still said to be in serious discussion with the Baltimore Orioles on a deal to send the Orioles pitcher Joe Blanton, with the Orioles going far enough to request a look at Blanton’s medical records. Blanton would be just one move for the Orioles; they’re said to be looking for bullpen help as well.


EMPIRICAL MOVES?—The New York Yankees aren’t being as quiet as a lot of people thought in the past fortnight, the Ichiro Suzuki deal to the contrary: they’re now said to have eyes for Ryan Dempster while possibly looking for a little third base help with Alex Rodriguez down for the count for six weeks at least. San Diego’s Chase Headley—whom most analysts think the Padres must move if they want to get rebuilding in earnest—is thought to be on the Yankee radar. What might make the Yankees think they have a shot at Dempster, who’s being pretty finicky in invoking his no-trade clause? Easy enough: Two men Dempster respects, former Cubs GM Jim Hendry and former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, are in the Yankee organisation now. However, a few reports indicate the Yankees and Cubs are merely talking—for now.

TEXAS SHIELDS?—At this writing, it’s believed the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays are talking about Rays pitcher James Shields, formerly thought to be on the Los Angeles Angels’ radar until they pulled the proverbial trigger on the Zack Greinke deal. Right now, that’s all it is, according to a few reports: talking.

SNAKES IN THE GRASS?—The Arizona Diamondbacks may be making a move in their quest to land a major league-established starting pitcher: they’re said to have pulled minor league pitching prospect Patrick Corbin from a scheduled start in Sacramento (AAA), indicating a possible deal in the works in which Corbin would be included, though nobody’s saying just whom the Snakes have as their target. On the other hand, it’s also possible that they could move a major league starter (as yet unnamed) in a deal. The Diamondbacks are widely thought to be trying to move two other players, infielder Stephen Drew and outfielder Justin Upton.

UH-OH . . . There’s a snag in the speculation on Ryan Dempster as a Dodger target. Fox’s Ken Rosenthal tweets it this way: the Dodgers’ position “is that they have made deals without moving any of top 7-8 prospects. Will not move any of them for rental like Dempster.” Which could mean the Dodgers may back away from Dempster unless there’s a fair chance they can sign him beyond his current deal that expires at season’s end.

Victorino to the Dodgers: The Trade Winds at 5.5 Hours to Go . . .

One of the signatures of the Philadephia Phillies’ former grip on the National League East is departing, according to Fox Sports. The network says Shane Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday for relief pitcher Josh Lindblom and minor league pitcher Ethan Martin, whose name was raised earlier during conversations with the Chicago Cubs regarding Ryan Dempster.

Victorino returns to his first organisation . . .

The network quotes an unidentified source as saying the Dodgers for now are thinking, “Damn the money, make the club better,” as the Dodgers continue a push in the National League West. For Victorino it’s a sort-of homecoming: he was originally a Dodger draft (1999), but the Dodgers lost him twice in Rule 5 minor league drafts and he eventually haunted his first organisation in postseason play, helping beat them in 2008 and 2009—and triggering a bench-clearing when Hiroki Kuroda dusted him during the 2008 League Championship Series.

Victorino is a two-time All-Star with 40 runs batted in in 2012. He’s thought to have faded somewhat this season but he’s still only 31 and, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers think he still has plenty of upside left for them, if you listen to general manager Ned Colletti.

We’re excited to add an All-Star caliber player with postseason experience. He plays the game with passion, gives us a top of the order bat from both sides of the plate, can steal bases and is solid defensively in the outfield.

Victorino has 24 stolen bases and came off a 2011 in which he scored 95 runs and led the National League with 16 triples.

What did the Phillies get for him? Martin is a starter who’s considered just about major league ready but the Dodgers have a decent rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley; Lindblom has established himself as a solid enough late-inning relief option with a 3.02 ERA thus far in 48 2012 games.

The Phillies were said to have been listening to offers for Victorino from the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates as well, both of which NL Central contenders were said to be as weak in the leadoff spot as the Dodgers. Sports Illustrated noted the Reds might have felt the Phillies’ return demand might have been too high. On the Phillies’ part, unloading Victorino and/or Hunter Pence could free up some salary space, bring in a prospect, and possibly get them back in the NL East hunts for 2013. (Of course, possibly moving Cliff Lee would do even more in that regard.)

The Reds are at the bottom of the Show in batting average from the leadoff spot (.203) and on-base percentage (.248). With Victorino gone, the Reds may set their sights instead on Juan Pierre (also with the Phillies) or Minnesota’s Denard Span, but they may not want to give up a pitcher to get Span. The Pirates, on the other hand, merely need help in the lineup, especially in the outfield where Andrew McCutchen now seems like a one-man show, since they fixed their biggest problem when they landed Wandy Rodriguez from the completely-rebuilding Houston Astros.

Speaking of Dempster, the Dodgers are still thought to be interested in landing the veteran righthander whose scoreless innings streak ramped his value to his personal all-time high. Dempster himself has vetoed a potential deal to the Atlanta Braves, who need to shore up their rotation for a final postseason push, and the issue seems to come down to just what the Dodgers will have to send the Cubs to get him.

The Cubs, for their part, need to move Dempster in favour of continuing a rebuilding effort that began when they brought in Theo Epstein to run the organisation. They’ve already moved veterans Geovanny Soto (C) and Paul Maholm (P) for some attractive prospects.

What makes Dempster so attractive other than his apparent career year this year? To those who dismiss him as a mere .500 pitcher, here says SI’s Jay Jaffe: “Dempster has been a guy who has averaged 200 innings a year while striking out 8.2 per nine, with an ERA 17 percent better than league average. That’s a solid 2-3 starter. He’s not going to maintain that 2.25 ERA, but he should still be a help to the Dodgers, and he’ll command a pretty penny this winter.”