May 27, 2011
Divide and Conquer, AL West
Bay Area Strife
Here's a little insight into the prime source of AL West managerial turnover over the last decade: From 2001-present, Los Angeles (Mike Scioscia), Oakland (Art Howe, Ken Macha, and Bob Geren), and Texas (Jerry Narron, Buck Showalter, and Ron Washington) have collectively used only seven managers. Seattle, on the other hand, has run through seven managers from 2003-present. Accordingly, most of the talk of clubhouse discontent, unfulfilled potential on the field and the like has centered on the Mariners over the last several years. That was due to change at some point, and change it has, with an ugly situation very rapidly materializing out in Oakland as player-borne allegations have inundated the current Bob Geren regime.
The public nastiness began late Monday night when closer Brian Fuentes, still incredulous at having been summoned into a tied game in the eighth inning, blasted his skipper following a late-inning 4-1 loss at Anaheim: "The games in San Francisco were unorthodox managing. I thought it was a National League thing. But tonight was pretty unbelievable. ... I get up in the seventh inning. I have no idea. I didn't stretch. If there was some sort of communication beforehand, I'd be ready, which I was. I was heated up. I was ready. ... But there's just a lack of communication. I don't think anybody knows what direction (Geren) is headed." The next day, Geren demoted Fuentes as an apparent disciplinary measure and installed Grant Balfour as his new closer. Fuentes apologized to Geren behind closed doors for the public outburst, and all was (purportedly) forgiven.
[Fuentes further alleged that Geren had handled him poorly and that he had "zero" communication with Geren, with some of these bad feelings apparently stemming from the fact that he (a) hadn't actually had a save opportunity since May 8 and (b) had his last three appearances all come in tied, extra-inning games, the most recent two of which had come on the road. This does give rise to at least one question: Was Geren supposed to have exhausted the rest of his bullpen options before turning to Fuentes for the purpose of keeping him happy, even if they were inferior options? This is a rather strange complaint when you really think about it, although it becomes more comprehensible if things really were as Fuentes alleged they were and there was absolutely no communication between the pair.]
However, things took an even nastier turn on Wednesday, as Athletic-turned-Rockie Huston Street also condemned Geren for being a bad communicator, and went so far as to call him his "least favorite person [he had ever] encountered in sports from age 6 to 27.” John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle further reported that all-around class act Mike Sweeney was driven to go after Geren in early September 2008 after he felt he wasn't allotted enough playing time during the Athletics' final stop of the season at Kansas City; Sweeney thought it might be his last chance to say goodbye to his long-time former team, and was so infuriated by the way Geren handled him during the series—he played only once in three games—that he blew up on the team flight, and was unceremoniously released days later. More rumblings of discontent (both past and present) seem to be filtering down through the media cracks.
Full disclosure: I'm not an Athletics fan, and though I strive to absorb and digest as much information on each of the AL West ballclubs as possible (and catch games via MLB.tv whenever possible), I don't pretend to have the most complete view of what Geren is and is not as a manager, both tactically and personally. I'm aware of some level of disgust in the Bay Area for Geren's actual in-game managing prowess (or lack thereof), but I can't point to any specifics. My thought, though, is that it is not reasonable to compare a big-league manager's tactical M.O. against that of the idealized "perfect" in-game manager (since none actually exist in the majors), but instead against those of the current best in-game manager. And guess what? The bar is lowered significantly when you shift the basis for comparison downward in such a way.
My point: If Geren truly is that underwhelming from a tactical standpoint, I'm doubtful that it's damaging Oakland much where the raw wins and losses are concerned; a sufficiently talented team can work around that (e.g. the 2010 Rangers)... but if the views of Fuentes or Street or Sweeney or anyone else are in any way prevalent in the Oakland clubhouse, you can forget about it. If Geren has lost the room, or if he is destined to lose the room, you can forget about it. And if the Athletics stumble in any way during the summer months, any existence of bad blood could place Geren on the hottest seat in baseball regardless of the strength of his friendship with Billy Beane.
Let me see if I've got this all perfectly straight: Scott Kazmir is mysteriously and perhaps irreparably damaged. Brandon McCarthy is broken. Josh Hamilton is out to kill himself. Water is wet. Fire is ho—erm, I'm getting sidetracked here. I don't want to run intradivisional injury talk into the ground despite its continual relevancy since there are other topics that merit tackling, but there's an evolving narrative associated with each of these players that I simply cannot pull my eyes away from: