- The Worst Team Money Could Buy, Part II:
Earlier in the year, when the Tigers were struggling, I speculated that if they kept on that road, they’d be compared with another team that had wheeled and dealed to field…*
*”wheeled and dealed to field”? Is that iambic pentameter?
…a team of all stars only to see the end result a flawed and heartless group of selfish infighters who stumbled to the bottom of their division and became a laughingstock. Two Mets beat writers—-Bob Klapisch and John Harper—-wrote a book detailing that 1992 season entitled The Worst Team Money Could Buy. As I’ve said before, the book is self-serving, self-justifying and flawed, but it does enough to document what went wrong with that Mets team. Now that the 2008 season is over, we can compare how the two teams were built and how the 2008 Tigers are in fact worse than that Mets team.
The 1991 Mets had faltered after years of continuous contention. After Joe McIlvaine surprisingly left to become the GM of the San Diego Padres, the Mets were left with the financial guy in the front office, Al Harazin, and the soon-to-retire Frank Cashen. Harazin was criticized for throwing money at the Mets problems, paying little attention to team chemistry and making deals based on the goal of being feted by the press, but the truth was, there was little to criticize in the moves he made in the winter of 1991/92.
Harazin signed the biggest name on the free agent market in Bobby Bonilla; a Hall of Famer in Eddie Murray; traded for two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen and jettisoned two players who were unpopular in the clubhouse due to perceived apathy (Kevin McReynolds) and selfishness (Gregg Jefferies). He also hired the then well-regarded former manager of the Chicago White Sox, Jeff Torborg. In looking at the decisions objectively, the team as constructed would still be considered the favorites in the National League even in retrospect knowing that they only won 72 games and were an embarrassment on and off the field.
None of the players that Harazin dumped (in that off-season anyway), became much of anything. McReynolds was done; Jefferies never fulfilled his potential. It just so happened that Torborg was (and is) a very nice, smart man who overdid the by-the-book, computerized matchups and statistics over in the trenches, hard core managing and baseball guy toughness. Bonilla and Murray were ill-suited to New York; the Mets got the Saberhagen who was a frequent resident of the disabled list instead of one of baseball’s best pitchers.
The Mets also made some other drastic mistakes that season such as thinking that Howard Johnson could play center field and that Bill Pecota could be an everyday third baseman. As the season wound down, Harazin made the unforgivable mistake of trading ace and impending free agent David Cone to the Blue Jays without offering him around the league to start a bidding war; the return on that deal of Jeff Kent (years before he became Jeff Kent) and a movie star handsome (with an ego to match) outfielder named Ryan Thompson whose style far surpassed his substance was not what could’ve been netted by an experienced GM and talent evaluator. That season and those decisions sent the mighty Mets from the 80s into a tailspin that resulted in years of mediocrity and worse until McIlvaine returned and hired Bobby Valentine to manage the team.
In many ways, the 2008 Tigers have fewer excuses than those Mets. The Tigers did similar things in the winter of 2007-08 to address their holes and acquire stars. I still contend (this has never been denied or affirmed) that the Tigers had no intention whatsoever of going after either Miguel Cabrera or Dontrelle Willis; they acquired Edgar Renteria from the Braves to play shortstop (for Jair Jurrjens, who’s going to be an All Star) and moved Carlos Guillen to first base; then came the blockbuster deal that fell into their laps for Cabrera and Willis at the cost of pretty much the rest of the Tigers farm system, including top prospects lefty Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin.
Cabrera’s going to be an All Star and MVP candidate every year; but Willis was signed to a long-term deal and seems to have fallen apart. Renteria’s range is gone, the Tigers declined his option and he’s proven that he’s a National League player; Guillen couldn’t play first base and Tigers manager Jim Leyland kept rearranging his infield and outfield on what felt like a daily basis. The Tigers bullpen, which was a question mark with the age of Todd Jones and injuries to Joel Zumaya, was a case of whatever could go wrong, going wrong. The starting rotation, like the 1992 Mets, was supposed to field a potential ace every night, but Nate Robertson and Justin Verlander were atrocious; Kenny Rogers got old overnight; Willis lost the strike zone and his unique mechanics came undone; and Jeremy Bonderman got hurt.
In many ways, the Tigers of 2008 were far worse than those Mets
because as flawed as Harazin was as GM, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is a respected, veteran, talent evaluator who made aggressive decisions before really thinking them through with the worst-case scenario in mind; that worst-case scenario eventually became reality. Torborg was what he was as a manager and didn’t have the capacity to handle the entirety of the job as manager as Leyland does. If Torborg wasn’t much of a manager to begin with and was a mistaken hire, then not as much blame can be placed on his shoulders; the opposite is true with Leyland. Leyland is supposed to be the guy who puts the pieces together and gets the most out of his players while figuring out how to overcome obstacles. The end result was a series of position changes; media wars with players like Gary Sheffield and Ivan Rodriguez; and repeated temper tantrums as things fell apart.
In the final analysis, the 2008 Tigers with their $138 million payroll and those 1992 Mets, who had the highest payroll in baseball at $40+ million (that was a long time ago), were very similar; but the Tigers had a better manager; a better GM and more of an opportunity to make the playoffs with four available spots in each league instead of two. One thing both may have in common is that there’s a very real possibility that the Tigers tattered farm system and aging roster is going to cause them to stumble to the depths in a similar way to the Mets of the early 90s; it takes years to clear out those highly paid veterans and rebuild the farm system; that’s something the Tigers are about to see as they pay for their mistakes with a lot of losses.
- Willie Randolph to be Ken Macha’s bench coach in Milwaukee:
Macha only received a two-year deal as manager, so there’s more to Randolph accepting this position than just a job and to help out an organization with whom Randolph has a good relationship. Randolph was one of the finalists for the Brewers job and, while he has an out clause in his contract if someone (specifically the Mariners at the moment) want to hire him to manage, he’s in a good position to take over in Milwaukee if Macha doesn’t work out; and with the way the team’s constructed with a bad bullpen and dwindling starting rotation, they’re going to have problems contending next year. Randolph may actually be better off that he didn’t get the job and he can replenish his image as a bench coach until someone decides to give him another shot as manager.
- NEWSFLASH—-the Braves do not need Jake Peavy:
It’s lost on the Braves front office that they do not have a very good team right now and they’re apparently trying to placate manager Bobby Cox and the fans by not doing the right thing by starting to rebuild. No one’s saying that they should be trading veteran stars like Chipper Jones (although it’s something to consider), and cut payroll to Marlins-like levels, but they do not need Jake Peavy, especially at the expense of three or four young players. The latest rumors—-Yunel Escobar, Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, etc.—-are irrelevant. Would Peavy make the Braves better next year? If he stays healthy, yes; but the Braves are in a division with the Mets and Phillies and are going to be, at best, a .500 team next year.
Peavy doesn’t fix their woeful bullpen; he doesn’t turn back the clock ten years for Tom Glavine and John Smoltz; he doesn’t expedite Tim Hudson’s return from Tommy John surgery; and he doesn’t help their offense. The days of the Braves rebuilding on the fly and continuing to contend are over and the sooner they accept it, the better; and what are they going to do if Peavy shows up and his stressful motion finally blows out his arm?
It looks like team president John Schuerholz and GM Frank Wren are desperate to keep Cox happy, but if what’s best for the team is to keep their youngsters and rebuild, and Cox can’t accept that, then they have to move on; and how much longer are they expecting Cox, at age 67, to continue managing anyway? This deal would do more harm than good with the way the Braves are currently built and if they make the move, they’ll learn that the hard way.
The easiest thing to do in the wake of President Elect Barack Obama’s election is to take potshots at the lunatic fringe/idealogues/mouthpieces as they lament the beating their twisted version of the GOP received.
There’s the Focus on the Family hypocrite James Dobson, who claims to be an evangelical Christian as he’s praying for rain to halt the Democratic Convention, and endorsing Sarah Palin and shrugging off her daughter’s pregnancy outside the religious right’s version of the sanctity of marriage.
There’s Sean Hannity who suffers from one of the following three afflictions: 1) he’s remarkably stupid; 2) he really believes some of the stuff he says (the United States has the greatest health care system in the world is a fine example
); or 3) he’s giving his listeners what they want and making a load of money doing it.
There’s Curt Schilling with his right wing politics; ignorant rants about which he knows almost nothing other than party lines; and overt, gag-inducing lack of writing skill.
But the one person whose reaction would be the stuff of a reality show is that hick/yokel/buffoon sheriff who made it a point to mention Obama’s middle name as if it were some derogatory designation. It’s the man’s name!!! If there’s anyone who deserves to have the victors gloat, taunt and do obnoxious touchdown celebrations that would make Ray Lewis and his overdone celebrations stop and say, “that’s over the line”, it’s that sheriff. That’ll be President Barack Hussein Obama soon enough, my friend. Get used to it.