September 21, 2008
Every Given Sunday
A few months ago, it appeared that there would be wholesale changes made among major league general managers in the offseason, but now that no longer seems to be such a certainty. One team that will definitely have a new GM in 2009 is the Phillies, as Pat Gillick has already announced that he is retiring at the end of the season. It is conceivable, though unlikely, that the Phillies could be the only team to change GMs.
The most interesting GM scenario is playing out in New York, where Brian Cashman, whose contract expires at the end of the season, is finishing his 11th season on the job and the first without a playoff appearance. While Yankees co-chairperson Hank Steinbrenner has said that he would like to re-sign Cashman, he also wants to establish an advisory group to run the baseball operation. Cashman has been noncommittal about coming back under such a setup, though Yankees sources indicate he would prefer to stay with the only organization he has ever worked for, beginning as an intern in 1988. However, Cashman agreed to his current three-year agreement with owner George Steinbrenner in 2005 only with the stipulation that he have autonomy in baseball decisions.
"I'm certainly not going to make this about me," Cashman said. "I certainly have an operation set up like other operations, where I do have an advisory board. It's my manager. It's my coaching staff. It's our pro scouting director. It's our farm director. It's our amateur scouting director. Those are the advisers that I utilize. But I fully support what the Steinbrenner family feels the proper structure needs to be, and I think they need to set that up. They need to take care of that for themselves. There's no doubt about that."
Hank Steinbrenner has made it clear he is not happy that the Yankees are on the verge of missing the postseason for the first time since 1993, and have not won a World Series since 2001. "If Brian stays on as GM, that doesn't mean he won't be the number one guy," Steinbrenner said. "But the fact is, the more opinions the better. I think that's probably the best way. It worked in the '90s and it can work again."
There have been season-long rumors linking Cashman with the Phillies' and Mariners' GM jobs, but Cashman has consistently declined to talk about those openings, saying, "I already have a job." While the consensus is that Cashman and the Steinbrenners will make it work again, there is no doubt that he would move to the front of the line for the vacancies with the Phillies and Mariners.
Assuming Cashman stays put, the Phillies almost certainly will pick assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. as Gillick's replacement. Amaro, a Stanford graduate and former major league outfielder, has become one of the top GM candidates in the game in recent years, and often serves as the Phillies organization's spokesman in Gillick's stead.
The Mariners' situation is less clear, though president Chuck Armstrong says that they want to build a strong foundation rather than attempt to go after quick fixes, such as the disastrous trade last winter with the Orioles for left-hander Erik Bedard. The Mariners have the worst record in the major leagues at 57-97 despite opening the season with a $117 million payroll. Lee Pelekoudas has been serving as the Mariners' acting GM since being promoted from assistant GM on June 16 after Bill Bavasi was fired; it seems doubtful that he will be retained in the top slot. One name that keeps getting mentioned as a possibility for the Mariners is Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng, who is considered the leading candidate to become the industry's first female GM.
Beyond the Yankees, Mariners and Phillies, there may not be any other GM changes in the offseason. There was much speculation a few months back that the Nationals would let Jim Bowden go after this season, but while the Nationals' NL-worst record of 58-97 would seem to only reconfirm that line of thought, Nationals owner Ted Lerner believes in Bowden's plan to build the Nationals through scouting and player development, and reportedly plans to stick with him for the long haul.
Brian Sabean appears to have weathered the speculation that he would be out as the Giants' GM after five losing seasons and a change in managing general partners from Peter Magowan to William Neukom. All indications are that Sabean is staying as the Giants' youth movement takes hold; they are 69-86 for the season, but have gone 29-31 since the All-Star break.
The Padres' Kevin Towers, the longest-tenured GM in the game, is also expected back next season despite speculation that CEO Sandy Alderson might make a change. There have been persistent reports that Towers would be of interest to the Mariners, but Alderson has maintained throughout the season that he will not let his GM out of the final year of his contract in 2009.
Finally, Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi's job is also safe, even though club president Paul Godfrey is considering leaving the franchise to head up Toronto's bid to land an NFL franchise. The Blue Jays' strong late-season showing has ensured Ricciardi will be back in 2009.
The Astros are making a fashion statement in the final days of the season as a sign of protest. They're wearing red T-shirts under their jerseys with a caricature of Commissioner Bud Selig on the front and the inscription "Bud killed us." On the back are the words "We survived Hurricane Ike."
The Astros are still clearly peeved that Selig rescheduled two of their three games against the Cubs that that could not be played in Houston last weekend because of Hurricane Ike to Milwaukee's Miller Park, just a 90-minute drive from Chicago. The third game would be played at Minute Maid Park on September 29, the day after the regular season is scheduled to end, but only if its outcome impacts the playoff races. That seems highly unlikely at this point as the Cubs have clinched the National League Central title and the Astros are now 4½ games off of the Mets' pace in the wild-card standings with just eight games remaining. The Astros' bid to win the wild card took a major hit after the hurricane, as they lost five straight games and six of seven, including being no-hit by the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano last Sunday and held to one hit the next afternoon. The Astros had won 14 of 15 games to pull within 2½ games of the wild-card lead when the storm hit.
"It's just not right what happened," said pitcher Brandon Backe, the Astros' player representative to the Major League Baseball Players Association, and also a native of Galveston, Texas, which was devastated by the hurricane. "I know all about the playoffs supposedly needing to start on time because of Fox and all that stuff, but I also think you have to do what is fair, and what happened to us was not fair. We were denied the chance to play three important home games that could have made our season, possibly been the thing that got us to the playoffs. It's just not right that we, in essence, had to turn two of those games into Cubs' home games. The games could have been made up after the season was supposed to end. It wouldn't have been the end of the world to push the start of the playoffs back a couple of days. It would have been the right thing to do to give everyone a fair chance."
Backe, whose home in the Houston suburbs survived the storm with minimal damage, also was not happy that the Astros were forced to play games on the road less than 48 hours after the eye of the hurricane passed over the city. "Everybody on this team was affected by the hurricane to one extent or another," Backe said. "To make us have to leave our homes so soon after a major disaster struck showed no compassion whatsoever. All of my family and friends were affected by the storm. Some of the people closest to me are homeless because their houses are gone. It was really a flip of the coin whether I was going to get on that plane and go to Chicago. I knew it was the right thing to do to go with the team but it was hard to leave, one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. I don't think anybody's heart was in those games in Milwaukee. Heck, we got one hit in two games. What does that tell you?"
Backe also pointed out that Major League Baseball postponed a week's worth of games following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and moved the start of the postseason back one week. "I'm not equating 9/11 with what we went through in Houston, because 9/11 impacted the whole nation," Backe said. "My point, though, is baseball started the playoffs late that year. They still had the playoffs and World Series like normal. They made adjustments then, and they could have made adjustments now."
The Cubs certainly enjoyed their impromptu two-game excursion to Miller Park, and it went beyond winning both games against the Astros. While it is anathema to suggest that Wrigley Field should ever be replaced, getting the chance to call Miller Park home for two days made some Cubs players wistful to have a modern facility to call their own. "Miller Park is beautiful," center fielder Jim Edmonds told the Chicago Tribune. "I have a much greater appreciation for that field now that we saw the other side. I don't know what they should do with [Wrigley] because it is a great place, a place people have been coming to for almost 100 years. Everyone is going to have a different opinion. It's like old Busch Stadium. People didn't want it torn down, even though [the Cardinals needed a new ballpark], because it was still a great place."
The downside about Wrigley Field for the players is that the clubhouse is one of the smallest in the league. Throw in the large numbers of media members covering pennant-race games, and the situation is nearly unworkable in the team's dressing quarters. "That's what we have in front of us and what we deal with," Edmonds said. "I mean, I enjoy it and I enjoy the history. Of course it's always nice to have a new place. The weight room in Milwaukee is as big as our clubhouse, and they have whirlpool and weight rooms and batting cages, but [Wrigley] is what it is."
Right-hander Jason Marquis thinks the best solution would be to build a replica Wrigley Field on the current site, though that would cause the Cubs to have to find a temporary home for at least two seasons, most likely U.S. Cellular Field if the White Sox were be amenable. "You never want to see a landmark taken down, a place with so much history," Marquis said. "The fans love it. That being said, the game is changing, stadiums are getting updated. There are better facilities, not only for the players, but for the fans-better food concessions, comfortable seats, better views. If I had a personal choice, I think they should knock Wrigley down and build a replica in the exact same spot to give it that same feel. The same colored seats, same ivy, same wall, and throw up a Jumbotron, but have it look like a replica of the scoreboard that's up there now, try to give it the same feel, in the same spot. I wouldn't be opposed to that."
The Angels have cruised to the American League championship, but that doesn't mean the roster will return intact in 2009. It would seem impossible to keep the team together in light of owner Arte Moreno telling the Los Angeles Times that he doesn't plan to increase the team's payroll much over this season's $123 million figure. Considering that first baseman Mark Teixeira and record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez head a list of potential free agents that also includes right-hander Jon Garland and outfielders Garret Anderson and Juan Rivera, the Angels might need a $150 million payroll to re-sign those five players. "You're always going to have X amount of transition on a team," Moreno said. "There are a lot of very successful teams with lower payrolls than us. It's not always how much you spend, it's about spending wisely."
First-year GM Tony Reagins already knows he is going to have to make some tough choices in the offseason and that he could have a challenging winter. "This didn't just sneak up on us," he said. "We know it's going to be a busy offseason. We'll do our homework and try to make the best decisions for our club, our fans, and the long-term health of the organization. The makeup of the team could be a little different next season, but we're committed to bringing a competitive team to our fans year in and year out."
It will likely take something in the range of seven years and $126 million to keep Teixeira, and five years and $70 million to retain Rodriguez, who has saved a major league-record 60 games this season, but Reagins says it is not impossible to project both stars being back next season. "We have an interest in Mark, and he is one of the players available who we will target," Reagins said. "We're open to getting something done with Francisco. He's had a historic season, and we'll see where that takes us."
AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Red Sox will have some tough decisions to make about their post-season pitching staff, primarily whether to use Tim Wakefield or Paul Byrd as the fourth starter, and if they should keep Mike Timlin in the bullpen. ... The Yankees are expected to re-sign right-hander Mike Mussina to a one-year contract as a free agent, and to also make a pitch for Diamondbacks second baseman Orlando Hudson. That would allow them to trade second baseman Robinson Cano, possibly to the Dodgers. The Yankees are also unlikely to re-sign first baseman Jason Giambi or right fielder Bobby Abreu. ... The Tigers are optimistic about their chances of re-signing right-hander Freddy Garcia as a free agent, and may also make a play for Dodgers right-hander Derek Lowe, a native of suburban Detroit. They have no plans to re-sign left-hander Kenny Rogers. ... The White Sox are so unlikely to re-sign third baseman Joe Crede that they've removed the nameplate above his locker in their clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field. ... The Mariners are likely to non-tender left-hander Erik Bedard, who will miss a good chunk of next season because of shoulder surgery. ... Designated hitter Milton Bradley says he will only re-sign with the Rangers if they offer him a multi-year contract. ... The Orioles want to sign second baseman Brian Roberts and right fielder Nick Markakis to long-term contract extensions this winter. ... The Royals plan to make Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur an off-season trade target. ... The Blue Jays plan to make an aggressive bid to re-sign right-hander A.J. Burnett if, as expected, he opts out of the final two years and $24 million left of his five-year, $55 million contract. They also intend to pick up the club option on catcher Rod Barajas for next season, allowing catcher Gregg Zaun to leave as a free agent, perhaps making rookie Curtis Thigpen their backup behind the plate in 2009.
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Giants would be willing to trade right-hander Matt Cain if they could land a big-time power hitter in return. ... Dodgers right-hander Greg Maddux and Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome are both in danger of being left off of their team's post-season rosters. ... The Padres are now leaning on exercising right fielder Brian Giles' $9 million club option for 2009, while they also plan to non-tender catcher Josh Bard and go with rookie Nick Hundley behind the plate next season, signing the Astros' Brad Ausmus as a free agent to be his backup. ... The Mets are willing to trade second baseman Luis Castillo and pay a large part of the $18 million left on the final three years of his contract. ... Cardinals utility player Adam Kennedy, who began the season as the starting second baseman, has asked to be traded. ... The Nationals are considering moving center fielder Lastings Milledge to left field and right fielder Elijah Dukes to center to bolster their defense next season, while Anderson Hernandez will go to spring training as the favorite to be the starting second baseman ahead of Emilio Bonifacio. ... The Marlins will give rookie Cameron Maybin first crack at winning their starting center fielder's job next spring. ... The Pirates say left-hander Paul Maholm is the only pitcher assured of being in the starting rotation when spring training begins. ... Cardinals reliever Russ Springer is leaning toward retiring at the end of the season. ... Right-hander Russ Ortiz, last seen pitching for the Giants last year, is looking to go to someone's camp next spring.
Interesting facts as the 25th week of the regular season comes to a close: