January 18, 2009
Every Given Sunday
Baby, it's Cold Outside
Ken Macha had a hard time finding ways to keep busy during the last two summers. He'd make the commute from his home in Pittsburgh to Boston twice a month in order to work as a studio analyst on Red Sox' telecasts on NESN. He would also spend many nights watching Pirates' game on the local cable channel, and he'd occasionally drop by PNC Park to take part in alumni autograph sessions, having served as a utility infielder for his hometown team for a spell in the 1970s. There was nothing, however, that could quite fill the void of his previous job. "I missed managing," Macha said. "I missed being around the game. I missed being in the dugout, being in the clubhouse, making out a lineup card every day. You won't every find many jobs that can top being a major league manager."
Macha can't wait to get to spring training with the Brewers next month. He was hired to take up skippering the club in late October, and he inherits a team that won the National League Wild Card and made its first playoff appearance in 26 years, losing to the eventual World Series champion Phillies in the National League Division Series. "It's exciting, first of all, just to have a chance to manage again," Macha said. "It's even more exciting to step into a good situation where you have a talented team that is not only ready to win but has proven it can win. Most of the time, a team is looking for a manager because it needs to start over again or something has gone wrong."
Ironically, Macha had stepped into a similar situation in his only other job as a major league manager. He had taken over the Athletics at the start of the 2003 season after general manager Billy Beane allowed Art Howe to leave Oakland in order to become the Mets' skipper. Macha spent four seasons with the Athletics and compiled a 368-280 record, and helped guide them to their first American League Championship Series appearance in 16 years in '06, but was fired a few days after being swept by the Tigers amidst reports that the players were ready to rebel because he was too aloof. When Beane first brought Macha in to replace Howe, he had been looking for a manager with more fire, but Macha also took a laid-back approach to the role, something that figures to work well with the Brewers as he replaces the respected yet intense Yost.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio had forced GM Doug Melvin to fire Yost last September, and Macha's personality is one of the reasons why the Brewers hired him. Macha and Melvin have known each other since playing together in the Pirates' farm system nearly three decades ago. "If you're looking for me to jump up and down, it's not going to happen," said Macha. "I mean I'm very excited about this opportunity, and I'm excited about the team I'll be managing, but I'm not going to change my personality. I think everyone has their own way of getting their point across. I don't know if I'm going to go out and throw my hat down and kick it all over the infield like [Cubs manager Lou] Piniella does. I don't think that's going to happen, but our guys will know what I like and what I don't like."
Macha doesn't dwell on what happened with the Athletics, and he doesn't feel a need to make any changes in the way he will develop relationships with the players on his new team. "I've talked to a lot of the guys on the roster, but not all of them, because I'm not big into leaving messages," Macha said. "I introduced myself, told them how excited I was to take over a club that got into the playoffs. The organization and the players deserve a lot of congratulations because of the trip they have made in the six years since Doug has been with the Brewers. So, it's a little different message to the players than what a new manager would normally make. It's a little different circumstance. It's a lot more congratulating them on a great year, instead of saying we're going to change this or change that in spring training."
The Brewers had only two regulars in first baseman Prince Fielder (.299) and left fielder Ryan Braun (.294) with EqAs over .280 last season, and finished a disappointing 17th in the major leagues with an average of 4.6 runs per game, although they finished 12th in the majors in team EqA. The Brewers are also faced with revamping a pitching staff that has lost several key contributors; left-hander CC Sabathia (5.6 SNLVAR in just 130
In a first step in their effort to rebuild the bullpen, the Brewers signed all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman to a one-year contract as a free agent to be the new closer. Hoffman, though, had a 1.80 WXRL last season, well below Torres' mark of 3.05. Meanwhile, their top remaining starting pitcher in terms of SNLVAR from 2008 is Dave Bush, with 3.7. "It's really going to be valuable for me to have Dale Sveum (the interim skipper turned hitting coach) and Billy Castro in those roles, because they know what our players are capable of doing," Macha said. "It's just another reason why I feel so good about walking into this situation."
The Phillies' Citizens Bank Park is just across the parking lot from the Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field in the sprawling sports complex in South Philadelphia, so it's no surprise that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Eagles coach Andy Reid are kindred spirits. Manuel had his share of detractors among always-demanding Philadelphia sports fans, many of whom felt the ruddy-cheeked manager with the Virginia drawl was a country bumpkin until he led the Phillies to the World Series title last season. Those same fans were ready to run Reid out of town as recently as November 23, when the Eagles were routed 36-7 by the Baltimore Ravens in a loss that seemed to end their playoff hopes.
The Eagles, however, are now one of four NFL teams that are still alive, and they'll be hosted by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game this afternoon in Glendale, Arizona. Manuel will be watching from his home in Winter Haven, Florida, as he and Reid have struck up a text-messaging friendship that began after the World Series. "I send him one, and they keep winning," Manuel told David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News.
The Eagles have gone 6-1 since that loss to the Ravens, a surge reminiscent of the Phillies having won 25 of their final 31 games last season en route to their first World Series title since 1980 and only the second in the franchise's 125-year history. "I look at the Eagles, and let me tell you something, it looks like they are on a mission," Manuel said. "They are playing together. If they make a mistake or get a bad break, it doesn't really bother them."
Manuel and Reid also have something else in common, as they've both benched high-profile players. Manuel pulled Jimmy Rollins from a game last season for not hustling, and sat him out of another after he had arrived late to the ballpark, and Reid pulled quarterback Donovan McNabb at halftime in that pivotal game against the Ravens. "When you do something like that, especially when it's a star player on your team, it's not like you're anticipating any problems, but you open the door for people to talk," said Manuel. "But it's all about doing what you think is right to get your team playing better and understand what they are playing for."
The Dodgers swallowed hard and released center fielder Andruw Jones on Thursday after being unable to find a willing trade partner to take the former star. Jones deferred all but $3.7 million of the $22.1 million left on the final year of his two-year contract, and the Dodgers will be on the hook for all but the minimum $400,000 salary that will be paid by whichever team signs the 31-year-old as a free agent.
That ends the story of one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent memory. The Dodgers signed Jones after the 2007 season, and he proceeded to post a .170 EqA with a -17.3 VORP last year. Jones was also barely above average in the field. "Last year, [manager] Joe Torre tried so many things-[hitting coaches] Mike Easler, Don Mattingly, Jeff Pentland, endless sessions," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said. "Obviously, nothing worked. Nobody could have foreseen this a year ago. The move was heralded. We felt good about it. Our scouts felt good about it. It never happened."
Asking Jones to defer so much money is just the latest move by LA to push expenditures as far into the future as possible. The Dodgers got shortstop Rafael Furcal to agree to have his signing bonus paid at the end of his three-year contract when he signed as a free agent last month, and they have also delayed the renovation of the loge level and clubhouses at Dodger Stadium indefinitely. However, owner Frank McCourt scoffs at the idea the Dodgers are experiencing financial difficulties. "The Dodgers are one of the most well-run franchises in all of baseball," McCourt told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. "We're going to continue to run it that way. This is an incredibly sound franchise. It was not when we bought it."
The Braves seem the most likely spot for Jones to land; he spent the first 12 years of his career in Atlanta before signing with the Dodgers, and still lives there.
Filmmaker Ken Burns is adding an extra chapter to his acclaimed Baseball documentary. It will be called "10th Inning," and will air in the spring of 2010 on PBS. Burns' original series covered the history of the game through the 1992 season, and was broadcast by PBS during the players' strike in 1994. The new MLB Network is re-airing the series on Tuesdays in January and on Tuesdays and Thursdays in February.
Burns does not plan to shy away from controversy in "10th Inning," and he intends extensive coverage of both the strike that wiped out the '94 postseason and the steroids scandal that eventually led to the Mitchell Report being released in 2007. Burns did say, however, that "10th Inning" will also celebrate the sport. "Since the end [of the documentary], we have seen Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and the Braves," Burns told the Houston Chronicle. "We have seen the Yankees finally coalesce under one of the game's most gifted managers [Torre], throwing off the buy-buy mentality of George Steinbrenner to give him time to develop Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Sure, we had steroids, but man, look at what else we have to offer. The Red Sox. We have Ichiro. We have Cal Ripken. Think of the Willie Mays catch [in the 1954 World Series]. Now we have that caliber of play and athleticism that produces similar [catches] all the time. The Marlins won the World Series twice. The Rays made it to the World Series. We are in the middle of a baseball renaissance, as [commissioner] Bud Selig says, and working on this, I have to agree."
AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Twins are considering making an offer to free-agent reliever Eric Gagné to be Joe Nathan's set-up man. They are also interested in trading for Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, and have expressed mild interest in free-agent third baseman Joe Crede. ... Yankees outfielder Xavier Nady is drawing trade interest from the Braves, Reds, Pirates, Giants, and Nationals. ... The Mariners might sign outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. as a free agent, although the Braves and Marlins are said to have at least cursory interest as well. ... The Mariners are considering going with a platoon of Chris Shelton and Russell Branyan at first base. ... Right-hander Freddy Garcia is drawing interest on the free-agent market from the White Sox, Mets, Yankees, and Rangers. ... If the White Sox don't sign Garcia, they'll hold a spring competition for the fifth starter's job among Lance Broadway, Jack Egbert, Jeff Marquez, Aaron Poreda, and Clayton Richard. ... The Rangers have interest in left-hander Eddie Guardado and right-hander Chad Cordero as free agents, and they plan to use Hank Blalock as the designated hitter now that Michael Young has agreed to move from shortstop to third base to allow rookie Elvis Andrus to take over at short. ... The Orioles have interest in free-agent third baseman Ty Wigginton, and they're planning to give right-hander Danys Baez, who missed last season while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, a chance to make the rotation in spring training even though he has not started a major league game since 2002 with the Indians. ... Despite missing the last two season while recovering from shoulder surgery, right-hander Kris Benson, who last pitched with the Orioles in 2006, is drawing interest from the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Rangers. ... Rays left-handers J.P. Howell and Scott Kazmir will pitch for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, while right-hander Grant Balfour will pitch for Australia.
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Mets plan to increase their three-year, $30 million offer in an effort to re-sign left-hander Oliver Perez. ... The Dodgers are looking to upgrade their pitching staff and have interest in a host of free agents, including left-handed starters Andy Pettitte and Randy Wolf, right-handed starters Jon Garland and Braden Looper, left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes, and right-handed reliever Luis Ayala… The Padres continue to show interest in free-agent shortstop Omar Vizquel after signing David Eckstein to play second. ... The Cubs are trying to sign free-agent infielder Rich Aurilia, and they've made it known that left-hander Rich Hill, shortstop Ronny Cedeño, and center fielder Felix Pie are available in trades, as all three are out of minor league options. ... Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles will battle for the Cubs' second-base job in spring training, though a platoon there would make sense. ... The Pirates plan to play Brandon Moss in right field after trying him in left late last season, while Craig Monroe, Nyjer Morgan, and Steven Pearce will compete for the opening in left field during spring training. ... The Giants will hold a three-way competition in spring training for their opening at second base between Emmanuel Burriss, Kevin Frandsen, and Eugenio Velez.