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July 26, 2012
On the Beat
The Marlins' Beaching
I don't profess to be a general manager, and I certainly have never been the architect of a World Series-winning club. However, I have something in common with Marlins president Larry Beinfest: I watched his team play two of its three games against the Pirates last weekend in Pittsburgh and came to the same conclusion—he needed to break up his underachieving club and start over.
Having covered the Pirates as a beat from 1988-2009, I saw a lot of teams sleepwalk through September. Rarely, though, have I seen a team with less energy and enthusiasm than the Marlins displayed last weekend. Clearly, Beinfest needed to take action even though the Marlins had entered this season with the highest hopes of winning in their 19-year history. They had the opening of their long-coveted retractable-roof stadium to look forward to, and they had signed shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle, and closer Heath Bell as free agents.
Yet things went astray early in the season when the Marlins suspended manager Ozzie Guillen for five games for comments he made to Time about how he "loved" Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. According to those who know him, Guillen hasn't been the same since the suspension.
"There's a filter on him now," said a long-time Guillen associated. "He's not the same old Ozzie. A large part of his effectiveness as a manager with the White Sox came from being outspoken. It kept the media away from the players and also allowed him to send messages to people when he felt they needed to be sent. He's lost that edge now."
Motivating the Marlins has been a problem for Guillen in his first year on the job. They are 45-53, putting them 13 1/2 games behind in the Nationals in the National League East and nine games in back of the Braves for the final NL wild-card spot.
Even a 21-8 record in May hasn't been enough to make the Marlins contenders. "You can't have one good month and three horseshit months and expect to win anything," Guillen said. "It doesn't work that way."
One day during spring training, a Marlins official was talking about the upcoming season with the anticipation of the ballpark and a seemingly stacked roster. He made this prediction: "It's either going to be a great year and we're going to win it all, or it's going to disaster. You just have a feeling it's not going to fall anywhere in the middle. It's either going to be really great or really bad."
It has been really bad, which is why Beinfest shipped right-hander Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante to the Tigers on Monday and third baseman Hanley Ramirez and lefty reliever Randy Choate to the Dodgers on Tuesday. The Marlins decided to cut ties with Ramirez, who had been the face of the franchise, after a disturbing turn of events last week. Ramirez injured his hand when he punched a cooling fan at Wrigley Field. Ramirez then forgot to take his medication, and the hand became infected.
"How do you forget to take your medicine when you are a grown man and make a living with your body?" one veteran major leaguer said incredulously when told the story. "That's totally irresponsible to not only your teammates, but yourself. It's a (bleeping) embarrassment."
That was the last straw for owner Jeffrey Loria, team president David Samson, and Beinfest. They put Ramirez on the trade market and struck a quick deal with the Dodgers. Many inside the game wonder if the Marlins shouldn't continue their purge and include Beinfest and Guillen.
"They've got the perfect guy to get that thing turned around right in their organization in Dan Jennings," an American League scout said, referring to the Marlins' assistant GM. "He should be the GM there. They really need new leadership there badly."
A few minutes with Orioles center fielder Adam Jones
On his team being just 2 1/2 games out in the American League wild-card race after suffering through 14 consecutive losing seasons: "The possibilities are endless. That's how good I think we are. I have no doubt in my mind we can get to the postseason. At the same time, there is still a lot of work to be done. We've got a little over two months left in the season, and we've got to play even better than we have so far to get there."
On why he signed a six-year, $85-million contract extension with the Orioles earlier this season: "Because I honestly believe we can win here. I know we haven't won in a long time, but I see the talent we have and I know that contending this year isn't going to be a one-year thing. I see this franchise at the beginning of a resurgence, and I like the idea of being at the center of it."
On why he has already matched his career high at 4.0 WARP with more than one-third of the season remaining: "Having the contract has empowered me. It's given me a sense of freedom. Some people say big contracts take away a player's incentive, and others say big contracts cause guys to try too hard to live up to the money. I don't think I fall into either category. Receiving that kind of contract just gives me confidence that I can be a major part of making the Orioles winners again, whether it's on the field with my production or off the field by recruiting free agents in the future or whatever the organization needs."
On what he is going to do with his money: "I'm going to build my dream house in my hometown of San Diego, and I'm going to buy a townhouse in Baltimore. I'm involved in a lot of charity work in Baltimore, and I want to keep contributing to that. Other than that, I'm set. I have more money than I'll ever need, because I'm not a guy who spends wildly. I'm not going to Vegas and spend $300,000 in one night. I am extremely grateful to be in this position."
Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton: "He's going to make somebody a nice pickup on the free-agent market over the winter. He's healthy and he's eating innings again. If you get him out of that bandbox in Philadelphia, he'll become more than just an innings eater."
Orioles left-hander Zach Britton: "I know I'll get some arguments, maybe a lot of arguments, but I think he is going to wind up being a No. 1 starter. It's not going to happen overnight, but he's got the stuff and mentality to evolve into an ace."
Rockies left-hander Edwar Cabrera: "The kid has no business pitching in the major leagues right now. He's got good stuff, but he needs more work on his command. The Rockies are in desperation mode now with that four-man rotation. They're trying everyone."
Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera: "For me, he's the best hitter in the game today. He has such a great grasp of hitting. He goes to the plate with a plan every single at-bat, and he's a great situational hitter."
Reds closer Aroldis Chapman: "I've always been in the camp that the Reds should make him a starter because of his great stuff, but now I'm not so sure they shouldn't just keep him in relief. At this point, they'd need a couple of years to build up him up to be a 200-inning starter, so why not just keep him as a closer?"
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford: "He doesn't dazzle you, but he grows on you the more you watch him play. I'm not saying he's going to be a perennial All-Star, but I do think he will develop into a solid major-league shortstop."
Twins catcher/outfielder/designated hitter Ryan Doumit: "He's in a perfect spot with the Twins. He can fill in for Joe Mauer behind the plate, yet they don't have to expose his defense by playing him too much. His best position has always been hitter."
Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie: "The Royals are hoping he likes it in Kansas City and would consider committing to play there for a couple of years, and I think that's a good idea. He's not a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he'll give you 200 innings and be a stabilizer for a young rotation like he was in Baltimore."
Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton: "He's prone to go into funks at the plate, but I've never seen him in one for this long. He's swinging at absolutely everything that's thrown to him. He's always been able to get hits on pitches out of the strike zone, but pitchers are getting him to chase pitches he has no chance to reach."
Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper: "His performance in the All-Star Game not included, he strikes me as a guy who is going to rise to the moment, like a Reggie Jackson. I saw him in New York this week, and you could just see how he thrived on being in that atmosphere."
Athletics third baseman Brandon Inge: "He's been a nice story since going to Oakland, but the bottom line is he doesn't hit good pitching anymore. If you make a mistake over the heart of the plate, he'll still crush it, but that's about it."
Diamondbacks left fielder Jason Kubel: "He made a smart choice when he signed with the Diamondbacks as a free agent last winter. He's the type of hitter who uses the whole field and that approach works much better for him at Chase Field than it did in Minnesota."
Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester: "It's just painful to watch him right now. He's totally lost, completely bereft of confidence."
Pirates reliever Brad Lincoln: "Everyone asks for him in trade talks, and I'd take him in a minute. He didn't work out as a starter, but he's got the stuff and aggressiveness to be a really good closer."
Rays first baseman Carlos Pena: "I thought it was a great move by the Rays in the offseason to bring him back, but it hasn't worked out. He has always been an all-or-nothing, but it's been a lot more nothing this year because his bat is slowing."
Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano: "I don't know if people around baseball realize what a weapon he is. He's a lockdown eighth-inning guy, and I'm sure he could be a good closer if he got the chance."
Yankees closer Rafael Soriano: "I have to laugh how everyone in New York panics when he blows an occasional save opportunity. I know he's not Mariano Rivera, but he's a proven big-league closer, and the Yankees are fortunate to have him."
Braves right-hander Ben Sheets: "He's a little bit of a different pitcher since he's come back from his surgeries. He doesn't throw quite as hard as he used to, but he's cleaned up his mechanics and his command. He has learned how to adjust to not having the same arm strength he did when he was younger."
Dodgers infielder Juan Uribe: "You have to love his enthusiasm, but he can't play anymore. He's finished."
Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook: "He has regained the touch on his sinker this year, and that's always been his break-and-butter pitch. When he's right, he works at a quick pace and gets one ground ball after another. He's pitching like he did during his best years in Cleveland."
Front-office types' views
On the Astros: "I like what Jeff Luhnow is doing there, but he has a monumental task in rebuilding that organization from top to bottom. They might go 0-162 next season in the American League. They really don't have many building block players, so it's going to take years for them to be truly competitive."
On the Indians: "Chris Antonetti has a tough decision to make in the next few days. Is he is a buyer or a seller? I know they are still close enough to be considered a contender, but I don't see them as a playoff team, and I think it would be foolish for them to make another Ubaldo Jimenez-type trade this year."
On the Mariners: "Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong, and Jack Zduriencik have to be three of the happiest men in baseball. Ichiro took them off the hook by asking to be traded. There was always going to public pressure to keep Ichiro, but it was time for the Mariners to move on without him. They are building around a young core and, quite frankly, he was getting in the way the last couple of years."
On the Mets: "Terry Collins has done a great job, but he's taken that club as far as he can take them this year. They don't have the depth to contend. Terry's wrung ever ounce he could out of the club, but you can only wring so much."
On the Pirates: "I know a lot of people are waiting for the other shoe to drop like it did last year, but I don't see if happening. They have a better club this year. Their pitching staff is deeper, especially after trading for Wandy Rodriguez. I'm not ready to say they'll be in the playoffs, but they are in it to win it this time."
In this week's Must Read, Glenn DuPaul attempts to determine baseball's most valuable players in terms of dollars at BeyondTheBoxScore.com.