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October 4, 2009
On the Beat
Final Weekend Update
All the stretch-run races for post-season slots but one are settled on the regular season's final day today, as the Tigers will try to avoid an epic collapse after blowing a three-game lead to the Twins in the last three days to fall into a tie for the American League Central lead. Besides watching the Tigers host the White Sox and the Twins host the Royals in what could be the last game in the Metrodome, the only thing left to ponder is the race for the individual awards:
Here is how one baseball writer's ballot would look if he were privileged enough to vote on all eight of the Baseball Writers Association of America's major awards:
Padres general manager Kevin Towers was extremely optimistic that the rebuilding program he launched this season when former owner John Moores cut the payroll from $73 million to $43 million was going better than expected. That's because the Padres are 38-24 since a 37-62 start, giving them a 75-86 record, the basis for Towers' hope that they could possible contend in the NL West next season. However, if the Padres are to jump up to contender status in 2010, it will be without him calling the shots. That's because Jeff Moorad, who completed his purchase of 35 percent of the club in April and became CEO, has decided to fire Towers, who had been the longest-tenured general manager with 14 years on the job.
Towers' strength as a GM was his ability for finding undervalued talent, even through trades or free agency. A prime example is right-hander Kevin Correia, who bounced between the starting rotation and various relief roles the previous six seasons with the Giants, but leads the Padres with 4.7 SNLVAR after being signed as a free agent last winter. However, Towers' critics have often pointed to the Padres' spotty record in scouting and player development. Both those areas will be stressed more now that Moorad is in charge, as the former player agent's pockets aren't nearly as deep as those of Moores, who made billions in software development.
"The organization is indebted to Kevin for not only the 14 years he served as general manager, but for the fact that the club is well-positioned to go forward into the future," Moorad told the San Diego Union-Tribune's Tim Sullivan. "I think we need to build a better baseball operations department, better skilled at the areas we're committed to going forward. I admire (Towers') skills very much and respect his relationships that exist around the game. But I think over the next period of time, our focus is on more of a strategic approach to drafting and development that has a chance to compete in the division year-in and year-out."
Moorad already began interviewing candidates after telling Towers last month that he was considering switching GMs. The Diamondbacks' vice president of player personnel Jerry DiPoto is considered a leading candidate. Moorad was the D'backs' president before taking over control of the Padres.
Moorad admitted that breaking the news to Towers, one of the more well-liked figures in the game, was difficult. "I've enjoyed working with Kevin over the last six months immensely," Moorad said. "I have great respect for him. This is not someone getting shoved out the door but rather this is about a decision for the organization for the long-term. He's been told that he can office here, he can stay here for as long as he's comfortable being around. This is a person I care about, I've enjoyed working with, and I understand that there's a strong likelihood that he'll end up being a general manager elsewhere."
Towers wasn't the only long-tenured GM to have the ax fall on him Saturday, as the Blue Jays fired J.P. Ricciardi after an eight-year run that produced no post-season berths. The firing came just days after reports surfaced that many Blue Jays players were so upset with manager Cito Gaston and what they felt were his lack of communication skills that they wanted to meet with chief executive officer and club president Paul Beeston to discuss the situation. The Blue Jays are 75-86 going into their season finale today against the Orioles in Baltimore. "It was time to move forward," Beeston said.
Assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos was promoted to replace Ricciardi for the time being. However, with Beeston set to retire, the next CEO is going to have the power to hire his own GM, according to Tony Viner, president and CEO of Rogers Media, which owns the Blue Jays. "Sure, we've gone through some turmoil but we believe the club is positioned to do well," Viner said. "J.P. has done a tremendous job in establishing a foundation and I think Alex is the right guy to take it forward. Not only are the fans not content with it, we're not content with it."
If there has been one word to describe Eric Wedge during his seven seasons as Indians' manager it is unflappable. He has always stayed focused through both the good and bad times. Thus, it was not a surprise that he handled his firing on Wednesday. In fact, Wedge asked that he and his coaches be allowed to stay on for the remaining six games of the season. His tenure will end today when the Indians play the Red Sox in Boston. "I wanted to be able to finish what we started," Wedge said.
Wedge's fall from grace has been quick. He was the AL Manager of the Year in 2007 when he led the Indians to 96 wins and the AL Central title. However, the Indians fell to 81-81 last season, and are 65-96 this season despite being considered among the division favorites both years. "I've had a long run as manager here and I take responsibility," Wedge said. "We weren't able to get it done but I hope for all Indians fans that the next guy who sits in this chair can do it."
Red Sox manager John Farrell is the overwhelming favorite to be the next man in that manager's chair. He pitched for the Indians, served as their farm director under general manager Mark Shapiro and makes his off-season home in the Cleveland area. Were Farrell to leave the Red Sox, they would receive compensation under terms of his contract. Most likely, the Indians would either send a player or cash to the Red Sox.
Shapiro and Wedge had an extremely close relationship. However, Indians president Paul Dolan felt a change was needed, particularly after the Indians lost 11 straight games at one point in September, and Shapiro was forced to make the move. "Obviously, this is an announcement I never envisioned I'd ever have to make," Shapiro said. "Eric is the epitome of a team player. His consistency, strength, work ethic, and leadership abilities have never wavered during his time here. It's been a privilege to work with him."
Shapiro is signed through 2012 and it is clear that he is now under pressure to get the Indians turned around. "The manager is often the fall guy for an organizational failure," Dolan said. "That doesn't mean we won't continue to look at other ways to improve our organization beyond the one thing we can do now, which is to change managers.''
While Wedge is going, Orioles manager Dave Trembley is staying for another season as his 2010 option was picked up on Friday. The speculation was that he was gone after the Orioles suffered through a 13-game losing streak that ended Thursday, the longest in the major leagues since 2006.
However, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail felt Trembley deserved to stay on for a fourth season, even though the Orioles are 63-98 going into today's season finale against the Blue Jays. "I always felt that Dave Trembley did exactly what this franchise asked him to do," MacPhail said. "He was charged with nurturing and developing and bringing along a lot of what we think are young, talented players, and trying to introduce them in the proper environment where they can enjoy some success. In my view, he has accomplished that mission. He deserves the opportunity. He's earned the opportunity to go forward."
Trembley is, as always, open and honest about his emotions. He admits that he had a hard time sleeping over the past month, worrying about both the losing and his future. "I can't tell you how grateful I am, and how happy I am," he said. "I'm happy for a lot of people, and I'm happy for the philosophy that's existed since I came on board. It is, 'Do things right, be honest, be fair, understand that the big picture is not yourself and it's the Baltimore Orioles.' To me, that makes it all worthwhile to get the opportunity to go forward."
Trembley had been forced to be as much of a caretaker as manager during his tenure, as he has had clubs that lacked the talent to contend. However, the Orioles have accumulated a great deal of young talent and MacPhail says the expectations will be different next season. "We're out of phase one, and that's the most destructive and the toughest phase, where you're essentially tearing down, and you've got the real construction in front of you," MacPhail said. "You dealt off your more attractive players to other clubs-or at least some of them, anyway-and you've brought in a nucleus of young talent. Where we are now, in my estimation is we're going to move back to the more traditional criteria of evaluating managers: wins and losses."