Believe me when I tell you the last thing I want to be doing in my spare time is try to come to some understanding as to what is going on in the cavernously empty head of Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo from WFAN in New York, but he continually sinks to new and embarrassingly gutless lows that have to be addressed. Today, as he and his partner Mike Francesa were discussing the snag in the negotiations between the Mets and Johan Santana’s representatives on a contract extension, Russo again went below the belt saying something about an athlete that he would never, ever, ever, ever have the courage to say to said athlete’s face. Russo, when questioning Santana’s motives in wanting to be the highest paid pitcher in baseball, referred to Santana as a "pig".
While Russo’s usual statements about people are for the most part reprehensible, he has a right, in my view to say that people "stink" as he often does; or to opine that certain players are "shot"; or that coaches and managers should be fired for whatever reason. As gutless and abusive as many of his tirades are, he does have that right to say such things because they’re not out of bounds in the realm of talking sports; but when characterizing someone like Santana, the best pitcher in baseball, as a "pig" for wanting to be paid according to the free market and his accomplishments, it is lower than when Russo accused former Mets pitcher Al Leiter of quitting on the team.
And precisely why should Santana be called a "pig"? Why does the best pitcher in baseball have to explain himself when he wants to be paid more than an inferior pitcher like Barry Zito? Why should Santana sell himself short as Carlos Zambrano did? Has he done anything to warrant being ridiculed in such an offensive manner? He’s a "pig" because he’s taking advantage of his situation? Never mind that Russo is trying to promulgate the idea that Santana had his heart set on going to the Yankees or Red Sox (where Russo came up with that is anyone’s guess; mine is that it came right from his posterior like most of his "analysis"); but why is it necessary to say something like this when the negotiations are ongoing and, despite the snag, are likely to be completed. (Both the Mets and Santana are in a similar situation as the Red Sox were with Daisuke Matsuzaka last season and those negotiations went down to the wire.)
For the record, Francesa was bewildered at the use of the word "pig" by his partner; and even with all of Russo’s rhetoric, one would have to give him grudging credit if he were ever to say any of the things he so courageously says about athletes in the safety of his studio to their faces, but he never does. Yesterday for example, San Diego Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson was a guest on the show; for the better part of a week and a half, Russo has ranted endlessly about Tomlinson’s behavior after he exited the AFC Championship Game with a recurrence of an injury. On and on he went about how Tomlinson sat silently, eyes hidden behind his tinted face shield and team cape draped over his slumping shoulders, seemingly not any part of his team’s unlikely hopes in beating the Patriots. When Tomlinson was a guest, did Russo confront him with the strongly worded statements that he felt so free to make while the player was nowhere to be seen? Of course not. He gently asked about it, accepted Tomlinson’s explanation….and then unloaded on Tomlinson again when he left. His excuse (really an alibi) was that Tomlinson was nice enough to come on the show, so Russo wasn’t about to give him too hard a time about what he essentially said was Tomlinson lying about what he was doing during the game. This had nothing to do with Russo being "nice" and taking it easy on the object of his attack, it had to do with Russo not having any guts to say the things he says in the presence of those he attacks.
So now I have to wonder, when and if Santana and the Mets get the contract sorted out and Santana is a guest on the Mike and the Mad Dog radio program after the press conference introducing the new Mets ace, will Russo have the courage to call Santana a "pig" to his face? Or will he do as he usually does, hem, haw and stammer his way through the interview, kissing Santana’s fanny as extensively as possible and then let him have it afterwards? Do you even have to think about an answer? We all know what’s going to happen and until the day comes that Russo says the wrong thing about the wrong person and is made to face the consequences, whatever they are, it will continue with this truly despicable entity known as Chris "Mad Dog/The Biggest Idiot In The World" Russo, the lowest of the low.
Why anyone would want to have any dealings with the Baltimore Orioles is beyond me. Peter Angelos’s constant interference and nixing completed deals has made the Orioles into a laughingstock among both the fans and other organizations. How many GMs, managers and players is he going to go through before he finally takes a step back and allows the experienced baseball executives with a history of success to do what they need to do to rebuild the team? How long did it take for the Orioles to finally unload an unhappy and unnecessary Miguel Tejada? And why did they wait until the offer they accepted was far less that what they would have received in various trade proposals over the past two years? And even then it was eerily convenient that the deal was completed the day before the Mitchell Report was released with Tejada’s name therein.
Now we’ve gone back and forth with the stories of potential trades of Brian Roberts and Erik Bedard that were said to be, at various times, "very close" to completion. What happened? Angelos is what happened apparently. The deal that was on the table for Bedard was pretty good for a team that is not going to have any chance of contending this year anyway. Adam Jones is a top prospect whose numbers in the minors are similar to those of Grady Sizemore; George Sherrill is a solid lefty reliever who can get out both lefties and righties (although he’s much better against lefties); and young Chris Tillman has put up good strikeout numbers in the minors. Angelos has refused to sign off on a deal and is apparently trying to sign Bedard to an extension—-ESPN Story.
Do the Orioles need Bedard considering how bad they’re going to be? Is he a good investment given his history of injury and attitude in dealing with the media? At this point, the Orioles need bodies to fill out their roster and make them appear somewhat respectable as team president Andy MacPhail sets about rebuilding that woeful farm system, sort of like the quantity over quality haul they got simply to get Tejada out of town. Doesn’t Angelos realize that with each passing day, teams are filling their needs elsewhere? The Orioles are lucky in that the Mariners are so desperate for a starter like Bedard that they’re likely to sit and wait out Angelos’s vacillating; the Mets and Dodgers have filled their needs and for some reason, Angelos doesn’t want to trade Bedard to the Blue Jays because they’re in the same division (as if the Orioles have to worry about competing with any other team in their division for the foreseeable future).
It makes no sense to keep Bedard or Roberts. It seems that MacPhail is being hamstrung in his attempts to rebuild his team the right way by clearing out veterans who aren’t going to be around when and if the team is ready to contend anyway. Who knows what is driving Angelos in his interference? Perhaps he was emboldened by the Orioles comeback and playoff berth when he sabotaged several trades former GM Pat Gillick and manager Davey Johnson were ready to make in 1996. Perhaps he’s transferring his doggedness in his law practice into the realm of baseball where he is neither knowledgeable enough nor realistic enough to realize when he should cut a deal. Or maybe he’s just got the "little-man’s syndrome" of not wanting to appear to give in to those that are perceived to be bigger than him.
Whatever his reasoning is, the Orioles track record under his stewardship is so heinous that one would think a man presumably as smart as Angelos would finally take a step back and let qualified people make required adjustments to rebuild the team. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, five year plans to rebuild teams can only come to fruition if they’re started in the first place, and as of right now, the Orioles haven’t even taken the first step.
This is not going to be another polemic directed towards the likes of Andrew Friedman, Jon Daniels or Paul DePodesta as to why they shouldn’t have been handed the reins of an entire major league organization given their college transcript, flimsy qualifications or reliance on trendy theories; it is intended to put into perspective why it’s so important to have a general manager who has the experience and social skills to be able to make the deal that Mets GM Omar Minaya made to (just about) put Johan Santana in a Mets uniform.
The skills that it takes to be a major league GM aren’t simply knowing stats and being able to calculate how much money a player is worth or how many "win shares" he’s going to add to a team; it’s about:
- Having the thick skin required to ignore fans and media entreaties to "do something" even when that something would be done in an unnecessary panic.
- Reading between the lines of what is being asked for and what would be acceptable in a trade and using the other team’s mandate against them.
- Understanding talent and having the scouting skills to determine what the best possible scenario is for each player.
- Being well-liked among one’s brethren.
Omar Minaya has been a player; he’s been a scout; an assistant GM and a GM. He’s affable enough that people like him whether they’re directly competing with him or not. He’s able to resist the pressure inherent with being a GM in New York City, where a crisis a day is the norm.
Minaya, as much as he played up the potential of Carlos Gomez, had to know that the player is just as likely to fail as he is to succeed because of the obvious holes in his game. The other players in the deal, while talented, are replaceable parts who can be found at reasonable prices. All through the winter, Minaya insisted that he was neither going to panic into making a stupid deal (Jose Reyes or David Wright going in any deal for either Santana or Dan Haren), nor did he ever believe that the Mets were out of the competition for Santana even with the industry-wide belief that the Mets didn’t have the horses in their system to get him. With a team that underwent such an epic collapse in September, essentially wiping out much of the good will he’d accumulated since his arrival back with the Mets in late 2004, that Minaya was able to stick to the plan of not dealing any of the cornerstones and getting an ace starter without even giving up the top outfield prospect in Fernando Martinez is a stunning show in patience and knowing how the game is played. This type of experience cannot be purchased or acquired by studying statistics and playing rotisserie baseball.
Because I give such a hard time to guys like Friedman, Daniels and DePodesta doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re intelligent people; it’s because they are not qualified to have the jobs that they have or had because of situations like this. Minaya holding out on Martinez could very easily have exploded in his face had Santana ended up anywhere else as Mets fans would have looked at an April starting rotation of Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Orlando and Livan Hernandez and asked why the team was so adamant about refusing to give up a 19-year-old Double A outfielder and forfeit a chance to win a pennant in 2008 with Santana. Would Friedman, Daniels or DePodesta have had the confidence to hold out on their organization’s top prospect with everyone and everything collapsing down on them? I know that I wouldn’t have hesitated if the Twins had said, "No Martinez, no deal." It’s a difficult thing to do to stick one’s neck so far out and hope that everything falls into place; but Minaya did it and it worked.
Another thing that cannot be discounted is all of the relationships one builds when working his (or her) way up through an organization. There must be some vitriol in the industry directed at guys like Friedman, Daniels and DePodesta as many veteran GMs spent their formative baseball years riding from one small town to another, scouting players, making little money as they work their way up in a contest of survival of the fittest and these guys, armed with stats and degrees, suddenly find themselves running the whole show. To the scouts, Minaya is one of "them"; a guy who’s been in the trenches and clawed his way up. And don’t discount how charming Minaya is. Who’s to say that while all of this was going down that both Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman didn’t call Minaya and say, "Listen, we’re not in this thing; don’t give up Martinez if you don’t have to." This too is part of being a successful executive.
Whatever the machinations, Minaya got his man and all that remains is the signing on the dotted line. Even if the Mets don’t do another deal for the rest of the year, this one move alone makes Omar Minaya executive of the year because he stuck to his guns and got his player without panicking or gutting his entire farm system. It’s all part of being a successful big league GM and it’s more to do with experience than anything else.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s easy to look back a couple of months are reassess decisions that were made with the best of intentions, but the Twins are now probably regretting not accepting the deals that were on the table from the Red Sox and Yankees rather than what they ended up with from the Mets. (This, of course, is pending the Mets signing Santana to a long term contract extension. With most other teams, this would be a mere formality, but the Mets have a habit of screwing things up at the last moment. I think the percentages are Ivory Soap pure—-99 44/100—-that the deal will get done.)
The conventional wisdom has always been that the Mets didn’t have the ammunition in their organization to get a deal done, and the reality is that the Mets didn’t have the ammunition to get a deal done until the Red Sox held the line on their lukewarm offer and the Yankees pulled out completely. Credit for this goes to Mets GM Omar Minaya for never taking no for an answer and having the confidence to make his offer and stick to it without giving up what he considered too much for a pitcher upon whom he also had to lavish a huge contract. The Mets gave up far less (in my view) than what the Red Sox and Yankees offered when the negotiations were at their apex in December. This was an accident of circumstance more than anything else. The Twins had few other options and decided to take the Mets quantity over whatever else was on the table for them.
If Santana had indeed informed the Twins that he would invoke his no-trade clause once he reported to spring training with them, they had no choice but to take this deal. In retrospect, they not only should have traded Santana in December, they probably should have traded him before the 2007 season entirely. The minor league prospects the Twins are receiving had better be the real deal for this to end up as a win for them because having seen enough of Carlos Gomez and Philip Humber to make a judgment on them, I think they’re iffy prospects at best. I’ve gone on about Gomez’s lack of plate discipline and how raw he is; and how Humber wasn’t all that impressive (unless former Brewers pitcher Jeff D’Amico impressed you, because that’s who Humber looks like). As for Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra, who knows? Even if both become stalwarts of the Twins future, the Mets had to make this deal.
The planets have aligned for the Mets after sitting by and watching year-after-year as other teams make the big splash with superstar talent coming their way. The Red Sox never really wanted Santana unless they could give up the bare minimum for him and even then it seemed like they were just trying to get the Yankees to give up two of their pitching prospects rather than one. The Yankees would already have Santana had George Steinbrenner still been in charge of the operation, so the Boss’s retirement was also a fortunate happenstance for the Mets. That Minaya was able to keep top outfield prospect Fernando Martinez out of the deal is even more impressive. (The kid had better be good if he was a deal-breaker.) Santana was a luxury for the Yankees and Red Sox; for the Mets he was a necessity that always appeared to be just out of reach; but Minaya continued to believe that eventually, if everything fell right, he’d be in position to swoop in and make this move, and he did. For a team to make one move and go from a likely 85-86 wins to a favorite in their division and World Series contender is a gigantic leap and Santana makes all of that possible.
I wish these teams—-the Twins, Orioles, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox, etc.—-would conclude these would-be deals one way or the other already so I can finish editing my book.
I’m on record as believing the deals aren’t done until the players are standing in front of their new team’s banner in the middle of an introductory press conference, but is anyone really surprised that the main holdup between the Erik Bedard trade to the Mariners is Orioles owner Peter Angelos agreeing to let it go through? ESPN Story
Given Angelos’s history of interference in his team’s baseball operations and penchant for nixing completed deals, this trade is just as likely to be undone as it is to be completed. If Andy MacPhail was naive enough to take the Orioles job believing that he’d be allowed to clean out the house and make the changes he deems necessary to rebuild the team and didn’t get the final authority guarantee in writing, he’s already realized his mistake at this point; but if this deal is undone, then MacPhail should seriously consider resigning because this is no way to rebuild an organization as desperate and downtrodden as the Baltimore Orioles.
There’s been much play in the media as the story by Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press in Minnesota reports that Johan Santana could be traded within ten days—-Walters Story. Buster Olney linked it on ESPN and the New York Post picked it up as well. What this has to do with reality or the likelihood of it being accurate is unknown. The word "could" is conspicuous in the title of Walters’s story. There are many "coulds" that one is capable of using, but that doesn’t make them any more likely to happen. For example:
- Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich could be elected president this November.
- The Giants could beat the Patriots 63-0 this Sunday.
- The Minnesota Twins could put Santana on the space shuttle and send him off to the moon along with the message, "If we can’t have him, no one can".
You get the point. I’m not buying this story, nor am I buying the idea that the Twins are going to settle for a package that they deem unworthy for Santana. And as for this whole idea that the Mets are going to be the last team standing for Santana, I hope I’m wrong, but I’m getting the same feeling I had when the Mets signing of Vladimir Guerrero was just as imminent as the trade of Santana is supposed to be and then I had to sit and watch Guerrero sign with the Los Angeles Angels as the Mets were scratching their heads and waving their arms like the group of monkeys staring at the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In other words, I’ll believe it when I see it.