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Posted on: November 13, 2011 6:09 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2011 6:50 pm
 

Matheny replaces La Russa as Cards manager

The Cardinals on Sunday named former big league catcher Mike Matheny as their new manager and will formally introduce him in a news conference on Monday morning in St. Louis.

Presumably, they've already handed Matheny a guidebook blueprint for replacing an all-time legend (Tony La Russa), taking over a World Series champion as a rookie skipper and making a managerial debut in the big leagues -- not in the minor leagues.

The truth? The only way Matheny's debut job could be any more difficult is if the club loses icon Albert Pujols via free agency.

Wait, hold that thought!

While Pujols was being wined and dined by the Miami Marlins over the weekend, the Cardinals whittled their short list of La Russa replacements to a final one.

The contrast between him and La Russa could not be more stark:

La Russa managed more games than any manager in major-league history after Connie Mack.

Matheny, 40, spent part of last season as a roving minor-league instructor for the Cardinals, and part of it in the St. Louis broadcast booth. He has never been a manager.

He has, however, managed games from behind the plate as a catcher for 13 years in Milwaukee, Toronto, St. Louis and San Francisco. He spent five years behind the plate for La Russa's Cardinals, from 2000-2004, and during that time forged a solid relationship and earned a tremendous amount of respect from La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

How much? As Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote earlier this month, La Russa once described Matheny "as the only big-league ballplayer he'd let one of his daughters marry." As Strauss noted then, the fact that the Cardinals would consider allowing Matheny to become their next manager might be nearly as impressive.

Matheny was said by industry sources to have been very impressive when he went through the Cardinal interview process earlier this month. That surely came as no surprise to general manager John Mozeliak and the club, given that Matheny was a clubhouse leader during his time in St. Louis whose leadership qualities were unquestioned.

That, and Matheny's familiarity with the Cardinals organization are the qualities that the club hopes make for a smooth transition. As a player, his attention to detail was evident, among many other areas, in the four Gold Gloves he won -- three of them while wearing a Cardinals uniform. He also helped mentor a young Yadier Molina, a relationship that should grow further and work as one of St. Louis' strengths in 2012.

One key for an inexperienced manager is his staff, and with Duncan expected to return, Matheny will have the game's most respected pitching coach at his right hand.

Another important hire will be Matheny's bench coach, presumably a veteran man with managerial experience. Colleague Danny Knobler is hearing that former Red Sox and Dodgers manager Grady Little is a possibility to join Matheny in St. Louis.

Matheny was chosen ahead of five other candidates: Terry Francona, who most recently managed the Red Sox; Chris Maloney, who managed St. Louis' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis last year; Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Famer and former Cubs star who managed Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate; Joe McEwing, who managed the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, and Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals' third-base coach.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:15 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 7:38 pm
 

Can Marlins convince big guns to wear new unis?

Talk about moving and shaking.

The Miami Marlins have a new manager with a Q rating off the charts in Ozzie Guillen. They've squired free agents Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes around their new ballpark this week on recruiting visits. They've been in touch with free agent Prince Fielder, and sources say they're very active in the relief pitching market as well (Heath Bell?).

Thursday, a Marlins contingent is due in the Dominican Republic to watch Yoennis Cespedes, the flashy Cuban defector who is expected to be declared a free agent within the next few weeks.

Now, poised to unveil new uniforms on Friday, the question is: Will the Fish be able to hook a marquee free agent or two to wear those new threads?

Perhaps a better -- and certainly more direct -- question: Are the Fish really and truly serious about changing their gills and writing jumbo-sized checks? Or is this an early winter blitz to sell tickets that will end with ticket-holders looking around a new ballpark next summer wondering where all those big plans went?

Sorry, two questions there, not one.

But with the Marlins, things are rarely as they seem.

Unquestionably, their early-winter actions have the attention of an industry that has long been accustomed to watching owner Jeffrey Loria do what Mike Ditka once accused Bears owner George Halas of doing: Throw nickels around like manhole covers.

But the Marlins finally have a new stadium and they know they need to fill it. In fact, club president David Samson, during an interview on SiriusXM radio Wednesday, predicted that the club will be "drawing, I'd say, 30,000 to 35,000 every single game."

Last year, the Marlins averaged 19,007 per game, last in the National League and 28th in the majors.

"They're trying to sell tickets," one industry source said Wednesday of the Marlins' aggressive early movement. "They're trying to get people excited about the ballpark. If they can do that, good for them."

If they can lure Reyes, All-Star Hanley Ramirez, who underwent left shoulder surgery after playing in only 92 games last season, would slide over to third base.

Buehrle, who has logged 200 or more innings pitched for 11 consecutive seasons, would provide a nice veteran anchor to the rotation -- and his workload undoubtedly would help pick up the slack the next time ace Josh Johnson goes back onto the disabled list.

Certainly, if the Marlins can sign Reyes or Buehrle, that would preclude them from adding Fielder. And despite the early push, one veteran agent said Wednesday he can't see the Marlins adding more than one marquee free agent.

Still, it's the time of the winter for dreaming, and the Marlins right now are dreaming big. Just a year ago, they traded slugger Dan Uggla to Atlanta because they couldn't agree to terms on a contract extension. Just two Januarys ago, the players' union nicked them for violating revenue-sharing rules and not spending enough money on player payroll.

We know the Marlins are moving into a brand new ballpark in 2012.

But are they really moving into a new world as well?

As Samson and Guillen pulled out all the stops with Reyes at the iconic Joe's Stone Crab for lunch Wednesday, they would have us believe they are. They've indicated that they intend to crank up their payroll in 2012 to $80 million or so, from $57 million in 2011.

Fine. But until they finally dress one (or more) of these guys in those new uniforms, it's all sizzle and no steak -- or, as they'd say at Joe's, all shell and no crab.

Until they finally dress one (or more) of these guys in those new threads, the Marlins remain as they always have: Buyer beware.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:48 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 12:57 am
 

Phillies backing away from Madson deal?

That contract the Phillies were discussing with Ryan Madson, the one that was rich enough to perhaps set the bar for Jonathan Papelbon and others this winter?

It might have been too lucrative for the Phillies' own good.

The deal currently is in flux -- with Philadelphia ownership hitting the pause button, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Whether it or not it gets put back on track -- today or in the near future -- now will be the subject of great interest.

Madson and the Phillies on Tuesday were discussing a four-year deal worth $44 million, according to sources with knowledge of the talks, with a fifth year option worth another $13 million. The deal, negotiated between Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and agent Scott Boras, was said to be reaching its final stages -- offered, and accepted. Then it went upstairs to Phillies' CEO David Montgomery, and the club hit the brakes.

This doesn't necessarily mean the Phillies will not sign Madson, who converted 32 of 34 save opportunities in 2011. But it does mean that if they've got pause on the price tag -- a price they initially appeared to be OK with -- they might decide to in a different direction -- Papelbon? Heath Bell? -- before what has turned into a highly curious negotiation finishes.

Madson, 31, compiled a 2.37 ERA in his first full-time season as a closer, with 62 strikeouts over 60 2/3 innings.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:07 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:24 pm
 

Dbacks, Bloomquist figure it out

The Diamondbacks and Willie Bloomquist are back on track, with the infielder/outfielder agreeing to a two-year, $3.8 million deal, according to CBSSports.com sources.

The versatile nine-year veteran had declined his end of a $1.1 million mutual option last week in what became a mini-drama, what was characterized as miscommunication between the club and Scott Boras, agent for Bloomquist. In the aftermath of that, the club signed utility infielder John McDonald to a two-year, $3 million deal which led to speculation that Bloomquist's days in the desert were finished.

Arizona signed Bloomquist last winter as a free agent, and the 33-year-old veteran quickly became a valuable piece of the Diamondbacks' unexpected run to the NL West title. He batted .266/.317/.340 and played 59 games at shortstop, 25 in left field and one at second base.

Among other things, he became the club's everyday shortstop when Stephen Drew went down with a fractured ankle in July.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 6:48 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 9:53 pm
 

Love Letters: The Angelos Orioles edition

Happily, we can all agree on one thing: Peter Angelos has been a horrible owner for the Orioles. After that? Let's just say sentiment was just about 100 percent against me regarding last week's column in which I wrote that it appears as if the stumbling, bumbling Orioles took on a Confederate attitude in their search for a general manager. But I will say this: The mouth-breathers stayed home. While several folks vehemently disagreed with my take, they mostly were civil, rational and passionate in expressing themselves. That, as well as the disagreement, is appreciated. ...

FROM: Michael

Hi Scott,

I think the implication that Peter Angelos is racist is over the top. The Orioles actually interviewed a minority candidate for a position of power, unlike the Cubs and Red Sox, what does that say? If the Orioles were racist, why would they waste all that time? If Angelos were racist, why would he donate thousands of dollars to charities that primarily serve African-American neighborhoods? Your assertion makes no sense. None. Peter Angelos is an incredibly incompetent owner of a baseball team I have rooted for since I was a kid. But that does not make him a bad person or a racist. I think you owe him an apology.

One thing we need to make sure is straight: I did not -- and would not call him a racist. I wrote that the Orioles gave the "appearance" of racism by their actions. I know, the difference is subtle. But it's vast. I wrote the only definitive answer can come when "Angelos and Co. look in the mirror." And I will say that remains the only way to derive an answer because, as one very angry Orioles staffer defending Angelos told me, he just will not do interviews. So I can't talk to him."

FROM: Bill

I am second to none in my contempt for Angelos and the way he has run the Orioles into the ground. However, you need to look at his record across the board before you write something as venomous as your article accusing him of being racist. The lone basis you employ for your column is that DeJon did not get the job. Really? That is your threshold for throwing out the racism card? I guess CBS gives out columns to anyone who can type. Maybe they should hire an African-American journalist to take your spot!!

With no respect,
Bill

I take your points seriously, and I do not enjoy using the racism card. I have rarely used it in more than two decades of writing. I will repeat what I explained above: I did not accuse Angelos of being racist. I wrote that the way he and the Orioles conducted their shabby GM search, it gave off the appearances of racism.

FROM: Brendan

This lifelong O's fan thinks Peter Angelos is a terrible owner. However, you tainting Angelos with the racism tag is beyond irresponsible. It is reprehensible. Angelos is a liberal. As a liberal, I know 'liberal' and 'racist' are mutually exclusive. Angelos may be an egomaniac, but you owe him an apology for invoking race into the situation. If it matters at all, I am a white guy with a black girlfriend who is attuned to subtle racism.

Your objection is noted. And I think everyone's personal experience does factor in to how we view things.

FROM: Chip K.

Wow, are you reaching and grasping at straws. I realize as a journalist if you mention a buzz word like racism people will read and that is the ultimate goal. There is an ethics [issue] involved, though. There is no evidence to this, but you bring it up anyway. The Orioles are indeed a complete mess and have handled EVERYTHING like this. Peter Angelos is difficult to deal with. To suggest anything else is not responsible.

Completely disagree, but I said my piece in the column.

FROM: Jon

It's blatantly unfair, and even irresponsible, to throw around the racism word in regards to the O's GM search. They're not the ones responsible for the ignorant rule making it a priority to interview at least one African American candidate. I completely understand MLB's concern with African Americans being hired for upper management positions, but there has to be another way to go about trying to make it happen. Watson was a token interview candidate because of a silly rule, not because the O's hate black people. Maybe he's just not a fit for them? And what do you expect them to say about how the interviews went? Angelos is a moron. An incredibly bad owner. But even implying that he's a racist is shaky ground, and poor journalism.

If this is the interview process that makes MLB revisit and change its standards on clubs interviewing minorities, then at least some good will have come out of it. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

FROM:
Frank D.

Scott,

I love your takes on baseball and your writing, but I think you're reaching here. Angelos is just clueless and Wilpon-like. You know, stupid. Maybe the guy [De Jon Watson] doesn't interview well. Perhaps they weren't blown away. Opening up interviews to others isn't a bad idea. Maybe they'll interview more minorities and shock you by hiring the first woman. I doubt it but... Angelos may prove my theory that he's just stupid by affirming that with the hiring of Omar Minaya.

So what do you think of Dan Duquette?

FROM: Jim K.

It may be a reach. It may be true. But I believe it is a bit irresponsible to label someone as a racist or even imply it without ANY evidence. This is an opinion that you should have researched further, or not shared. You can ruin people's lives and cereers with stories like this. What were u thinking?

I think if Mr. Angelos hasn't ruined his career by now with the way he's managed the Orioles, somehow I think he'll wind up just fine.

FROM: Gary

Did it ever occur to you that the interviews didn't go as well as they said publicly? Did it occur to you that MAYBE teams will say the interview went well out of courtesy to the guy. NAH..not you. You must always see teams saying a potential manager or GM had a terrible interview and they didn't hire them. Spend a few minutes asking qualified writers and the initials PR. One day you may actually get it!!

I know the interviews went well based not only on what the Orioles said publicly, but talking to people behind the scenes who know. And if you think it's safe to get all of your information from folks with the "initials PR", then you've got quite an education ahead of you yourself. Part of my job is to ferret out the truth from the BS the PR folks spin.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 12:38 pm
 

Orioles sure don't sound like players on Fielder

Regarding all the industry buzz that has the Orioles in hot pursuit of free agent slugger Prince Fielder this winter?

It might be time to cool it.

Baltimore issued its first public policy statement on Fielder on Tuesday, and in his introductory press conference as the club's new general manager, Dan Duquette sounded like a man more interested in devoting resources to the farm than to Fielder.

"Everybody wants to look at established major league players," Duquette said when asked specifically about big-ticket free agents such as Fielder or pitcher C.J. Wilson. "My success in the free agent market has been more signing players who can compliment the team [once core players are in place].

"When you can sign a player who can get you over the top, that's the time, I think, when it's right to go into the free agent market, personally."

From their perch at the bottom of the AL East, where they went 69-93 and produced the worst pitching staff in the American League, the Orioles do not look like they are ready to go "over the top" anytime soon.

Duquette's strength is in scouting -- both domestic and international -- and player development. He did sign free agents Manny Ramirez (2001) and Johnny Damon (2002) when he was in charge of the Red Sox, though those Boston teams were much further along than the current Orioles.

Duquette added Manny to a Red Sox club that had finished second in the AL East at 85-77 in 2000, then added Damon to a club that was second at 82-79 in 2001. Three years later, his instincts were proven correct: The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and again in 2007.

Speaking in Baltimore on Tuesday, Duquette noted that when you think you're within a player or two of winning, or when you have a chance to sign someone who is "a good value for a long period of time, that's when you should go into the free agent market. I believe Orioles fans understand that."

Sure doesn't sound like an organization prepared to toss a blank check in Fielder's direction.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Giants finances: Melky Cabrera and not much else?


Late spring, two years ago, manager Bruce Bochy told me that Jonathan Sanchez was going to be one very important key to San Francisco's season. And as the Giants went on to win the 2010 World Series, he was.

But as the Giants regressed in 2011, so did the frustratingly enigmatic Sanchez. Straight to the point where the Giants finally threw up their hands and shipped him to Kansas City on Monday for outfielder Melky Cabrera.

Difference between the Giants 2010 World Series run and failing to make the playoffs in 2011?

Try 127 runs ... or .78 runs per game.

Only Seattle crossed the plate fewer times than the Giants in 2011.

They have to score more and, in dealing Sanchez, what they've decided is that the only way to boost that offense is to deal from their source of strength, pitching.

It is a key decision for this reason: They do not have much money to spend this winter.

Failing some financial miracle, such as trading Barry Zito, sources familiar with the Giants winter plans say that they do not have the resources to chase Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins on the free agent market. They very well may not have enough to re-sign free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran.

As such, general manager Brian Sabean worked to strike quickly, adding to his lineup before some of the affordable bats were taken from the market.

In Cabrera, the Giants acquired a center fielder who likes the big stage, played well with the Yankees and hit .305 with 44 doubles, 18 homers and 87 RBI for the Royals last summer. Just 27, Cabrera also scored 102 runs for the Royals.

He is a smart, quick upgrade for the Giants.

Sanchez will turn 29 in two weeks, has a no-hitter on his resume and compiled a disappointing 4.26 ERA while going 4-7 with the Giants last summer. He missed the final month-and-a-half with a left ankle sprain.

Meantime, the Giants wasted Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and even Ryan Vogelsong, pitching that should have been good enough to take aim at a second consecutive World Series berth instead of winter tee times.

What they ultimately decided with Sanchez sidelined was that he was the most expendable -- or undependable, take your pick, they're probably one and the same -- of their starters.

If there is to be no Reyes or Rollins in the near future, acquiring Cabrera looks an awful lot like what Sabean did two years ago in building the '10 World Series winner: Supplement top-shelf pitching with the right mix of position players to squeeze enough runs across the plate to win more often than not.

It worked in 2010 because the Giants found that mix with players like Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Pat Burrell, and then they got hot just at the right time.

They never did get hot in 2011. If they are to recapture that formula in 2012, Cabrera, a healthy Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez and a bounce-back year from Huff will be among the key pieces.

Barring some found money, they have to be.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 6:43 pm
 

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Be careful what you wish for: With big-market finances come big-market expectations, and the Twins plummeting to a 99-loss season in 2010 despite a club-record $113 million payroll caused a big-time reaction Monday.

They fired general manager Bill Smith and went back to the future, naming Terry Ryan as interim GM.

Forget the Theo Epstein circus, the Tony La Russa resignation and the Orioles hiring Dan Duquette. This is the most shocking news of the off-season, simply because the Twins do not DO things like this.

Stability is their game. Since 1984, the Twins have employed only three men as GM: Andy MacPhail, Ryan and Smith.

For now, that will remain unchanged.

"I don't know if it will be for one year or for 10 years," Ryan said when asked to gauge the length of his interim tag. "We'll see how it goes. Direction, success, workload, all those things. ...

"This is going to be a challenge. I'm up to the challenge. I appreciate the opportunity."

The Twins refused to list reasons for dumping Smith. Owner Jim Pohlad had said at season's end that Smith would return, but he also said he wanted to see a plan for how the team could bounce back

Pohlad's utterings of "philosophical differences" and how this was about "scope and approach" pretty much said it all: Whatever plan Smith presented fell short in the Twins' eyes.

Hard to say if it involved spending even more money, but Ryan said that the 2012 payroll "is going to be south of where it was." He estimated that it would be somewhere around $100 million.

"Wherever it is, it's going to be a heck of a lot more than whatever I worked with," Ryan said in one of the few lighthearted moments of the news conference.

He sure has that right. Neither MacPhail nor Ryan never had a payroll higher than that of the Los Angeles Dodgers -- as the 2011 Twins did -- and they never had a brand new outdoor ballpark filled with exuberant fans night after night.

Smith did. And he signed Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal, and he had Justin Morneau on a six-year, $80 million deal, and neither of them could stay in the lineup last summer. Morneau, with his concussion issues, may never come close to being the same player he once was.

The Twins have issues, serious issues, and the fact that they've decided Smith no longer is the man to solve them ranks incredibly high on the seismic scale.

"We struggled on the mound, we didn't pick the ball up and we didn't score enough runs," said Ryan, who remains revered throughout the organization, from top to bottom. "We need to firm up a lot of areas."

Pure baseball always was going to be Smith's biggest challenge once the Twins promoted him to replace Ryan in September, 2007. A rules and contracts specialist who cut his baseball teeth from the ground up in Appleton, Wisc., in the White Sox organization, Smith was going to need a solid baseball man to team with, and the Twins made sure he had that when they promoted Mike Radcliff to vice-president of player personnel when Smith became GM.

Two of Smith's biggest trades backfired badly, and each factored into the 99-loss season as much as anything:

-- He sent two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana to the Mets in 2008 for a package of four players, none of whom has made an impact with the Twins. Outfielder Carlos Gomez came the closest, but he was spun off to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy, who now is with Baltimore. The other three players were pitcher Phil Humber and minor league pitchers Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.

-- He sent big-time catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington two summers ago for closer Matt Capps in a go-for-it-now move with the Twins en route to 94 wins and the AL Central title in their first season in Target Field in 2010. But now, with Mauer looking like an old 28 and playing in only 82 games in 2011, the Ramos trade looks like a disaster.

The signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka last winter for three years at $9.25 million also has the makings of a bust.

"If you're going to point to those, you should point at Orlando Cabrera [whom Smith acquired in 2009], Brian Fuentes [2010] and some others who worked out," Twins president Dave St. Peter said of two Smith acquisitions who helped the Twins make the playoffs in subsequent seasons.

There are more serious personnel questions heading toward 2012 than the Twins have faced in several years -- especially given the depths to which they sunk. They've declined the option on closer Joe Nathan's contract. Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and Capps all are free agents. Jim Thome already has signed with the Phillies.

And regarding the pitching staff, only Baltimore (4.89) compiled a higher ERA than Minnesota's (4.58) in 2011.

Ryan, the Twins' GM from 1994-2007, acknowledged that he's fielded inquiries from other clubs during his time out of the chair. Cincinnati, who hired Wayne Krivsky from the Twins, was one. But he loves the Twins, living in Minnesota and was enjoying the freedom working as a special assistant to Smith gave him.

"The situation dictated we were going to make a move," he said Monday. "If he had won 94 games, I wouldn't be sitting here. I didn't want Bill Smith's job. He knows it."

That said, Ryan said that he is going to "take this job head on. It's a 365-days-a-year job. We've got some work to do here."

The Twins are going to need both his baseball acumen and his familiarity. Because this is unheard of. They just don't fire people

At least, they didn't.

"Our family values loyalty, commitment and talent," Pohlad said. "Bill Smith had all three. ...

"We do this with a heavy heart."

"This is a sensitive day," Ryan said.

No question. But the one thing the Twins have going for them through this stunning and uncharted territory is, they've got a pretty good track record of getting things right.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com