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October 5, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Management Teams in the News

by John Perrotto

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Dale Sveum understands the value in the pitching arm of ace CC Sabathia, and how the big left-hander is going to cash in on it this upcoming winter when he becomes eligible for free agency. "He's going to make more money than any pitcher in the history of the game," said the Brewers' interim manager. "It couldn't happen to a better person, either. He's as nice of a guy, for a superstar, that I've ever met in my 27 years in professional baseball. He's a very special person."

There are those analysts who wonder if Sveum might be risking Sabathia's impending fortune the way he has used his ace since being promoted from third-base coach to replace the fired New Yost on September 15. Sabathia has pitched on three days' rest instead of the normal four in each of his last four starts, three outings to end the regular season as the Brewers clinched the National League Wild Card for their first post-season berth since 1982 on the final day, and then again on Thursday in Game Two of the National League Division Series against the Phillies. Sveum defends his actions, and insists he would not have made the decision to pitch Sabathia on such a demanding schedule without the pitcher's consent.

Sveum hatched the plan one day during a meeting with his coaching staff after being tabbed as Yost's replacement, following the Brewers being swept by the Phillies and having lost the 5-game lead they held in the wild-card standings at the beginning of September. With right-hander Ben Sheets nursing a sore elbow, rookie left-hander Manny Parra exhausted from his first full major league season, and right-hander Jeff Suppan struggling mightily down the stretch, Sveum and his coaches unanimously agreed that getting Sabathia on the mound as much as possible during the season's final two weeks would give the Brewers their best chance to get to the postseason. "The big thing, though, was to make sure that CC was OK with it," Sveum said. "I would never force a pitcher to go out and pitch on short rest if he wasn't on board with it. I would never put any player in a situation where there was any jeopardy of injury. I don't operate that way. Just as I was ready to walk out into the clubhouse and ask CC what he thought about pitching on short rest, he came walking into the manager's office and told me he was willing to pitch as often as we needed him. That answered that question."

Sabathia also knows he is about to hit the jackpot when the season ends, and will likely exceed the six-year, $137 million deal (the most ever for a pitcher) that left-hander Johan Santana received from the Mets last winter, but Sabathia said he would never put personal fortune ahead of team goals. "My job is to help the team win as many games as it can," Sabathia said. "We've had some problems with our starting pitchers in the last month, and they needed to use me more, which is fine. I want to be on the mound. I want to be pitching, especially in the middle of the pennant race and now that we're in the playoffs. As long as I feel good, I'll take the ball whenever they give it to me. It's always about winning, and even more than ever at this time of the year. What happens after the season will take of itself then. Right now, it's all about winning. My arm feels good. My body feels good. I still feel very strong. I don't feel like I'm wearing down at all."

The lack of time off seemed to get to Sabathia in his Game Two start, however, as he gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings, the most runs and least innings he had thrown in any of his 18 starts since joining the Brewers. Sabathia shrugged off any talk of fatigue, and insists that he just didn't make his pitches. He didn't blindly enter into the realm of starting on short rest-he understands the potential physical risks of overuse and has talked it over with his wife and agent, saying that they did not object. "Of course, they are not going to argue with me about it because they know it's an argument they aren't going to win," Sabathia said with a grin. "I want the ball. I want to win. They know that."

If the Brewers beat the Phillies today and force a decisive Game Five in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Sabathia will start on four days' rest. He had a 0.83 ERA in his three starts on short rest to end the regular season, and he isn't the only pitcher who was asked to work on short rest during the last week. The White Sox won the American League Central by using starters on three days' rest in each of their last four games, including John Danks working eight innings in the 1-0 win over the Twins on Tuesday in the one-game playoff for the division title. Santana pitched a shutout for the Mets on short rest on the penultimate day of the season, though his teammates failed to follow his lead and lost the NL Wild Card by one game to the Brewers on the season's final day as Sabathia went the distance with a four-hitter to beat the Cubs.

In all, there were 40 starts made in the major leagues on three days' rest during the season, and the pitchers posted a 3.64 ERA in those games. "When you see a guy doing what CC has been doing, it just gives the entire team a huge lift, because this is a guy who didn't even join the team until July, yet he's out there giving it his all for his team," Brewers catcher Jason Kendall said. "I'm an old-school player, and seeing a guy pitching every fourth day is as old school as it gets. It's just unheard of anymore. To see CC sacrificing for the good of the team like he has, especially with what's at stake in his career-it's meant more to everybody in our clubhouse than anyone will ever know. It's just very special."

With Sabathia and others succeeding on short rest in the latter days of the regular season, it leads to the question of whether teams could succeed if they went to four-man rotations. "Boy, I don't know," Sabathia said. "I think it would be tough to do it all year, especially early in the season when you're just coming out of spring training and are still building up arm strength. I think you definitely would have to condition your arm differently. It's a great question, but I don't know if we'll ever find out the answer to it. I don't know if anyone would be willing to try it."

---

Hiroshi Yamauchi is the owner of the Mariners, but he won't be having a say in the hiring of their next general manager. Yamauchi, who lives in Japan, represents the epitome of absentee ownership, as he has never been to Seattle to see a Mariners game in the 17 years he has owned the club. Thus, the decision will fall to chairman Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong to find a permanent replacement for Bill Bavasi, who was fired in June with the Mariners on their way to becoming the first team in major league history to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll. Assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas has held the job on an interim basis, but has no shot of becoming the permanent GM, as he was given only limited power by Armstrong.

There has been plenty of speculation that Pat Gillick, who has said he will retire as the Phillies' GM at the end of the season, is headed back to Seattle, where he served as GM from 2000-03. While Armstrong has shot down that speculation, he did admit to the Seattle Times that he speaks with Gillick by phone at least once a week. "I've asked his input on some of my [GM] candidates, and he's been pretty good about that," Armstrong said.

There has been plenty of fan resentment toward Lincoln and Armstrong in recent seasons, as the Mariners have not made the playoffs since 2001. Armstrong says he plans on staying, and considers rebuilding the Mariners as the biggest challenge of his career. "The good news is that they care and they're passionate about it," Armstrong said of the fans. "So, we're the two guys left at the top, and if they want to take shots, we're the best targets."

Armstrong has drawn considerable criticism for not allowing Pelekoudas to begin the rebuilding process this season. Armstrong overruled deals that Pelekoudas had in place to trade left-hander Jarrod Washburn to the Twins and left fielder Raul Ibanez to the Blue Jays. The only trade Pelekoudas made was sending left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes to the Marlins for Double-A right-hander Gaby Hernandez. Lincoln says it is unreasonable to expect top-ranking executives to have some say when it comes to "multi-million dollar, long-term contracts" but insists the new GM will have "all the authority he needs."

Lincoln said that he and Armstrong have a list of topics they want to cover with the GM candidates, and they will ask the same questions to each of them, placing more emphasis on their answers than the conversational part of the interview. "You can't please everybody, but I can tell you that we have worked very hard over a number of years to try to make the right decisions," Lincoln said. "Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don't, but quite frankly, this is our 17th season with this ownership group and this management of the team, and owning and operating the Mariners, we've had a number of significant challenges over the years. I'm very confident that we will meet this challenge, but I'm certainly aware that we've got some very upset fans."

---

After being rumored all season to be eyeing possible GM vacancies with the Mariners and Phillies, Brian Cashman said that he had never seriously considered leaving the Yankees when he signed a three-year contract this past week. If anything, the end of the Yankees' run of 13 consecutive playoff appearances this season only fueled Cashman's desire to return.

Cashman did not want to leave the impression that he was abandoning ship when the Yankees were beginning a potential down cycle, particularly after he suffered through one of the low points in franchise history as part of the front office when New York lost 87, 95, 91, and 86 games from 1989-92. "I don't like what shows up in the newspapers," Cashman said. "I don't like that people forget that I have been here since 1986, that I was part of this franchise when it wasn't very good. I was part of the rebuilding process as an assistant GM. I was the assistant GM under Gene Michael for four years and Bob Watson for two when we were rebuilding this thing. I was the assistant farm director when we had the core we have here today. Some people forget that, and the story line that was going to be written if I left, I wouldn't agree with. I wasn't going to let that story be written. If I left, the story that was going to be written wasn't going to be accurate. I have given my heart and my soul to the franchise. I am not going to let an inaccurate story stick. The only way to change that is to change the story. I am not saying it's going to be changed overnight, but I am saying it's not going to be written inaccurately."

Cashman would prefer to rebuild the Yankees through the farm system, but the impatient New York fans and co-chairpersons Hal and Hank Stienbrenner would not stand for that. Thus, the Yankees will likely jump back into the free-agent market despite some recent bad pitching signings that include spending $46 million on Kei Igawa and $39.99 million on Carl Pavano. "We have to make better decisions," Cashman said. "We need to be right more than wrong."

---

Cashman wasn't the only New York GM to agree to contract terms this past week; Omar Minaya received a three-year extension that runs through 2012 and includes club options for 2013 and 2014. Minaya got the extension even though the Mets had September collapses each of the past two years that caused them to be eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the season. "Omar's our guy," said Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, owner Fred Wilpon's son. "We believe in Omar, and we believe that he has a plan that he wants to take forward and get us to where we need to be. After some intense review this offseason, we're going to find out why we fell short the last two seasons. It's up to Omar and his staff to correct that."

Minaya's first order of business was to retain interim manager Jerry Manuel, who led the Mets to a 55-38 finish after being promoted from bench coach on June 17 to replace the fired Willie Randolph. Manuel signed a two-year contract with a club option for 2011. He realizes the Mets will be reminded throughout the winter and into next season about their back-to-back collapses. He also knows that the only thing the Mets can do now is try to move beyond it and find a way to finish strong in 2009. "We have to grow from every time that we get as close as we get and don't make it, and we have to review and kind of marinate on why we don't make it," Manuel said. "My job is to make sure that each guy is clear with his responsibilities for not being there, for us not making it. I have to look at myself first, and we have to kind of look at the team and see where we failed, why we failed, and talk about it as a group, and grow from it."

---

AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Tigers have tabled contract-extension talks with manager Jim Leyland after their last-place finish in the AL Central, and he will go into next season on the final year of his current deal. ... The Twins are expected to work out a contract extension with manager Ron Gardenhire, whose current pact runs out at the end of next year, and they will also bid on White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera as a free agent in the offseason while picking up backup catcher Mike Redmond's $950,000 club option. ... Francisco Rodriguez will look for a contract stretching at least five years for $75 million once he hits the free-agent market next month, and that makes it unlikely the closer will remain with the Angels. ... The Angels plan to pick up right fielder Vladimir Guerrero's $15 million option for next season, but are unsure if they want to sign him to a contract extension. ... Right fielder Bobby Abreu wants a three-year contract as he gets set to become a free agent, and it is doubtful if the Yankees are willing to go that far to re-sign him, especially since they are reportedly eyeing outfielders Matt Holliday of the Rockies and Nate McLouth of the Pirates as potential trade targets. The Yankees would have to start any offers with right-hander Phil Hughes to land either player. ... Red Sox veteran reliever Mike Timlin, who was left off of the ALDS roster, is leaning toward retiring at the end of the season. ... The Rangers are expected to exercise the $6.2 million club option on third baseman Hank Blalock for 2009, but seem unwilling to offer designated hitter Milton Bradley the multi-year contract he desires to stay in Texas rather than test free agency.

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Phillies are holding out hope that Gillick might delay his retirement plans for a year and come back in 2009. There is some talk that Gillick could wind up as the Blue Jays' president, replacing Paul Godfrey, who is leaving the organization. ... The Brewers will at least make an attempt to re-sign Sabathia, though it is a long shot, and they will dangle shortstop J.J. Hardy in trade talks as they have top prospect Alcides Escobar ready to take over at the position. ... Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is almost certain to return next season now that they have advanced to the NLCS with the sweep of the Cubs in the NLDS. ... The Padres would consider trading right-hander Jake Peavy, but only if they are overwhelmed by an offer. ... Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome has fallen so far out of favor with manager Lou Piniella that he is likely to be traded in the offseason. ... The Mets plan to make a big pitch for Rockies left-hander Brian Fuentes on the free-agent market. ... Though the Braves have made starting pitching their top priority in free agency, they also plan to try to retain left-handers Tom Glavine and Mike Hampton and right-hander John Smoltz. ... The Marlins will listen to trade offers on second baseman Dan Uggla, who is eligible for salary arbitration. ... Diamondbacks left fielder Eric Byrnes is willing to waive his no-trade clause in the right deal. ... The Cardinals are unlikely to have enough money to re-sign right-hander Braden Looper after retaining right-hander Kyle Lohse with a four-year, $41 million contract. ... The Astros plan to make a play for Brewers right-hander Ben Sheets as a free agent, and would like to re-sign reliever Doug Brocail at a lower salary after declining his $3.25 million option for next season. ... The Reds want to re-sign utility player Jerry Hairston Jr.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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